WASHINGTON — Rep. Stephanie Murphy is taking preliminary steps toward challenging Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in next year's midterm election, launching the kind of statewide "listening" tour that often precedes a campaign and is being done virtually because of the pandemic.
"I'm seriously considering [running for Senate] either in '22 or '24," Murphy said in an interview with NBC News on Wednesday.
"The only person Marco Rubio cares about is Marco Rubio," the third-term Democrat charged. And, she added, "I know what it takes to defeat a powerful Republican incumbent because I’ve done it."
But first things first — the kind of soft launch that's designed to build statewide name-recognition and is not explicitly about mounting a campaign. A four-minute video accompanying the announcement of her virtual "Cast Forward" tour of the state has all the hallmarks of a modern campaign launch biopic.
"My family escaped communist Vietnam and we were rescued by the U.S. Navy, and so I owe this country my life," Murphy says in the video. "My parents, facing a future where their children would not have opportunity or freedom or democracy, decided that we might die in search of light, that that was better than to live on in darkness."
Murphy would be facing a campaign with a state party in turmoil after Joe Biden won the presidency but lost Florida by three-and-a-half points in November. Republicans control the governor's office and both U.S. Senate seats.
Rubio, who lost the GOP presidential primary to Donald Trump in 2016, won re-election to his Senate seat that year by about 8 percentage points, and he dodged a potential political maelstrom when Ivanka Trump decided against a rumored primary challenge for next year.
Earlier this week, Murphy played down a possible Senate bid in an interview with NBC News.
"I’m really kind of focused right now on doing my job, serving my community,” Murphy said then. “Of course, there will come a time where I hope I can, you know, share my experiences of winning in a district that very much mirrors the state more broadly. But this isn't the moment. Right now, I'm really focused on trying to get the next Covid bill across the finish line.”
By Wednesday, she was less coy, acknowledging that she's actively considering a campaign against Rubio. But she insisted that her listening tour isn't designed as the platform for that bid.
"This isn't about that," she said.
The sessions will focus on five areas, according to a news release set to go out widely on Wednesday: Covid response; combating misinformation; fighting climate change; advancing social justice; and countering voter suppression.
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The virtual tour is designed to help Florida Democrats find the right message to attract voters in the midterms, no matter who their candidates for various offices are, Murphy said.
"I think I have some ideas and experience to offer, but most importantly I want to listen," she said.
As for Washington Democrats who think Florida is a waste of time and money for their party — and there are more than a few of those in the nation's capital — Murphy said it's winnable.
"Florida isn't a red state," she said. "It's a hard state."