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Democratic Establishment Prevails in Florida Primaries

SUNRISE, Florida — The Democratic establishment easily beat back two populist primary challenges Tuesday, including a well-financed bid to unseat former Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Meanwhile, in the race to face-off against Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in November, Rep. Patrick Murphy crushed a left-wing challenge from Rep. Alan Grayson.

The liberal pugilist's prospects tanked after his ex-wife accused him of domestic abuse, while his new wife lost her bid for Grayson's House seat.

And Murphy wasted no time attacking Rubio, who had no trouble winning his own primary. "Senator Rubio put his personal ambition ahead of Florida's middle class, earning the worst vote attendance record for a Florida Senator in nearly 50 years," Murphy said.

Wasserman Schultz easily survived the first primary of her 12-year Congressional career, beating Bernie Sanders-backed law professor Tim Canova.

At a pizza restaurant here, supporters waived pink signs that read "Debbie" and cheered as Wasserman Schultz' throat caught while she declared victory.

Image: Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., center, speaks at her victory party after defeating Tim Canova in the Florida primary election, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. Lynne Sladky / AP

"This is a community with an incredibly progressive heart that has lifted me up and helped be able to shout from the roof tops the idea that you can, in America, use government as a catalyst to improve peoples' lives," Wasserman Schultz said.

She made no mention of Canova.

Canova meanwhile, addressing supporters in Pembroke Pines, was not quite ready to give up.

"I'm somewhat aware of the election returns and I know, well, it isn't over til it's over and, you know, I'll start off right now by saying I'm not quite ready to concede anything yet," he said.

Canova raked in millions of dollars from Sanders supporters who were upset about Wasserman Schultz's management of the Democratic presidential primary.

But in a race that became the highest profile example of his attempts to compete in contested primaries, Sanders never campaigned for Canova, even as he launched a new group to support down-ballot candidates.

Sanders and progressives will have to chart a path forward after a putting up a disappointing twin-loss ratio this year for Sanders-backed candidates in contested primaries.

The Working Families Party, which endorsed Sanders, said they saw "a silver lining" in Canova's at least putting up a fight against an incumbent with the entire party behind her. "It's more proof that voters are growing tired of politicians who put the demands of powerful and wealthy interests ahead of the needs of ordinary families," said spokesperson Joe Dinkin.

National leaders including President Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigned for both Murphy and Wasserman Schultz, and results will likely reassure Washington Democrats of their ability to influence party primaries.

But she told NBC News Tuesday she had no regrets about her tenure as chair.

Throughout the day, Wasserman Schultz fielded calls of encouragement from the White House and the Clinton campaign, along with Jesse Jackson, Gabby Giffords, and her colleagues in Congress.

Democrats are generally much more aggressive than Republicans in influencing primaries. Republican leaders lost the luxury of picking their candidates during the rise of the Tea Party movement, and then again when Donald Trump won the Republican presidential primary.

Florida was the latest Senate primary in which party leaders saw the favored candidates win — Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid once told Grayson, "I want you to lose" — following other contests in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere.

"We are proud to congratulate Patrick Murphy on his decisive victory in tonight's primary," said the executive director of Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Tom Lopach, said in a statement.

"I'm not going to be endorsing Patrick Murphy for sure," Grayson told the Orlando Sentinel after his loss. "He's a Republican."

Grayson's new wife — who married the congressman just before the filing deadline and was thus able to use his well-known name on the ballot — came in third in her bid to fill the congressional seat Grayson vacated to run for Senate.

Wasserman Schultz and Canova spent the day visiting polling places across the 23rd congressional district, a strip of Southeastern Florida between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, which dips down to includes Miami beach.

Canova had argued that Wasserman Schultz had lost touch with her district as chairman of the national party and had gotten too cozy with special interests.

But Wasserman Schultz kept close tabs on her district and returned often, which paid off as she entered her election night watch party to a swam of hugs. "There are thousands and thousands and thousands of doors that I've knocked on," she said.

The district leans heavily Democratic, though Republicans nominated for a third time Joe Kaufman, a researcher for the right-wing David Horowitz Freedom Center.

Wasserman Schultz said she was eager to hit the trail again for Hillary Clinton in this critical state. "And as Florida goes, so goes the nation," she said.