Former Vice President Joe Biden is endorsing Rep. Darren Michael Soto as he fends off a primary challenge from his predecessor, Alan Grayson, in a sign that the Democratic establishment wants to keep the firebrand former congressman off the November ballot.
Biden steered clear of mentioning Grayson by name in issuing his endorsement — his first in a contested Florida Democratic race — and instead played up Soto’s blue-collar roots in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.
“Darren grew up in a neighborhood like I did, where a job was about a lot more than a paycheck,” Biden said in a written statement. “He knows that to have a strong economy we must strengthen and grow the middle class and that is why I am a proud to support Darren Soto, a proven progressive, for re-election."
Biden also called Soto “a highly effective legislator who keeps his head down, works hard, and delivers for his constituents. Central Floridians couldn't have a better person representing them in Congress.”
Soto is the first member of Florida’s congressional delegation of Puerto Rican descent, and his Orlando-based district has the highest population of Boricua voters in the state. Still, Biden didn’t mention Soto’s ethnicity, but it's expected to play a key role in the race — along with the dislike that Democratic Party leaders have for Grayson.
Known for his caustic rhetoric, Grayson was badly beaten in the 2016 Democratic primary for Senate against former Rep. Patrick Murphy amid questions about Grayson’s finances and police reports showing his ex-wife had accused him of beating her. He denied the charges.
Heading into the Senate race, Grayson had said Florida Democrats hungered for a true progressive. By the end of the campaign, he barely carried the confines of his congressional district, taking just 39.1 percent of the vote to Murphy’s 36.2 percent within the district’s boundaries, according to an analysis by MCI Maps’ Matthew Isbell for POLITICO. At the same time, Soto won the 2016 Democratic primary for the congressional seat against Grayson’s current wife and his former political adviser.
Grayson is again running as a “progressive warrior” and has released the first TV ad of the campaign featuring news clips of his appearances on MSNBC and testimonials of support from filmmaker Michael Moore and actor Martin Sheen. Independently wealthy, Grayson raised nearly $700,000 as of the last financial quarter ending March 31. Soto had raised about $365,000.
But what Soto lacks in money he might make up for in institutional support. Soon after Grayson announceed earlier this month that he’d run against Soto, The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s chairman, Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), issued a statement of unequivocal support for the incumbent.
“The DCCC is supportive of Congressman Soto, who has worked hard, strongly represented his community by putting people first, and built a robust base of support at home in Central Florida,” Luján said. “I’m confident Darren will run a winning campaign and continue to serve the good people of Florida’s 9th District, thanks to his record of supporting hurricane survivors in Florida and Puerto Rico, protecting DREAMers and all hard-working immigrants, and standing up for women’s equality in the workplace and their access to quality, affordable healthcare.”
Biden’s endorsement is seen as gold in Democratic primaries. He’s one of the party’s most popular figures and his endorsement is usually followed up with robocalls and mailers of support. Biden has stayed out of many Democratic primaries, but endorsed in four Florida bellwether contested contests, all of which Democrats won.
Nationwide, one Biden associate said 21 Biden-backed candidates won their races; only four lost.
In a preview of his support to come, Biden said that “Darren helped President Obama and I get elected twice and now he is working to protect the progress we made and help build upon it. We need Darren in Congress to keep our kids safe from guns; defend Social Security, Medicare, and Obamacare; protect our environment; and fight for our values.”