The Republican effort to knock off freshman Democrat Congressman Patrick Murphy began in full force on Tuesday as two challengers entered the race, while a crowd of other potential candidates continues to consider it.
Murphy, the youngest member of Congress, is ranked as one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the nation. While he edged the colorful and often controversial conservative Allen West in 2012, Republicans believe they have an excellent chance of defeating him in 2014. The district has a slight Republican lean, which Murphy was able to overcome in 2012 despite being outspent by West.
On Tuesday, Juno Beach City Commissioner Ellen Andel announced her intention to challenge the Port St. Lucie auditor and vice president of his family's construction business. In her kick-off event on Tuesday, Andel stressed her commitment to conservative principles, promising to fight for "fiscal responsibility" and a strong national defense.
But even as Andel entered the race, another Republican candidate filed the paperwork to launch his own bid. Attorney Alan Schlesinger, a former Connecticut state representative who served as mayor of Derby, is also seeking the Republican nomination. Schlesinger is no stranger to congressional bids, having run three times for the U.S. House before winning the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman in 2006. Lieberman had lost the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont but continued his bid as an independent. With national Republicans, including then-President George W. Bush, refusing to support his bid, Schlesinger flopped in the general election, taking less than 10 percent and finishing far behind Lieberman, who won the race with most Connecticut Republicans supporting him, and Lamont.
Murphy and the Democrats, meanwhile, aren't taking any chances. They wasted no time in issuing an "umpteenth" plea for contributions to fight back the GOP challenge. This "breaking development" email came across under Murphy's name:
"This is a critical moment for us Ellen Andel and Alan Schlesinger have both announced they are running against me. We need to have the strongest showing possible in the next 48 hours to show we have what it takes to win again. ... Please contribute now in these critical hours." The email did not say why the hours are critical.
While Andel and Schlesinger are already in the race, a crowd of Republicans continues to ponder whether to enter. These include four veterans of Tallahassee -- former House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, who ran in another congressional district in 2012, former state Rep. Carl Domino, and current state Reps. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, and Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach. Other possible Republican hopefuls include St. Lucie County Commissioner Tod Mowery, former Tequesta City Councilman Calvin Turnquest and businessman Gary Uber.
With two Republicans already in the race, Treasure Coast long-timer Harrell told the media on Tuesday that she will probably not have a final decision until after the third quarter of the year begins in July. However, she certainly did not close the door Tuesday on running.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News.