Patrick Murphy's Odds Improve in 2014 as He Claims the Center, Works the District
Around the State
Patrick Murphy is increasingly becoming the exact opposite of Allen West, the man he defeated to win a seat in Congress in 2012.
Despite representing a swing district, West showed no hesitation in embracing the tea party and trying to rally conservatives at a national level. But West often played up his national prospects at the expense of working his district. More than a few Republicans from the area have grumbled about West not pounding the pavement more in his race against Murphy.
Unlike West, Murphy has generally avoided the national stage. Instead, the freshman Democrat has focused on his district, working on various issues like All Aboard Florida and protecting the Everglades. Murphy’s eyes are more focused on his district than national politics and that’s paying off for him.
Murphy represents a swing district but he clearly has momentum on his side. National pundits are starting to move this race from a tossup to leaning Democratic. Murphy has certainly helped himself. So has the generally unimpressive field of Republicans who lined up to challenge him this year. West showed no inclination for a rematch, backing Ellen Andel who quickly pulled out of the race. Adam Hasner decided not to move north and run against Murphy.
With West, Hasner and Andel out of the mix, Murphy faces watered-down opposition. Carl Domino has the most money out of the six Republicans running against Murphy but he’s coming off two straight losses in state legislative primaries. Calvin Turnquest hasn’t raised much cash and finished far behind Domino in a state House primary back in 2012. Beverly Hires also did poorly when she ran for the House in 2012. Alan Schlesinger, the Republican Senate candidate who finished far behind Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont back in 2006, had more success in Connecticut than he has found since moving to Florida. Like Domino, Brian Lara is relying on his own money to fund his campaign but he hasn’t kept pace with the former state legislator. Nick Wukoson is a bit of an unknown but he’s lagging in the money chase.
It’s pretty telling that Murphy had more than $2.2 million in the bank at the end of March. Domino was a distant second with more than $387,800 -- most of it from his own fortune -- while Lara had almost $103,250, most of which was his own money. None of the other candidates had more than $30,000 in the bank. Whoever wins the Republican nomination will have to rely on outside groups and, as the needle moves in Murphy’s direction, some of them have to be looking at other races.
This is bad news for Republicans across the state. Murphy is one of the few rising stars Democrats have in Florida. Unlike many recent Democratic nominees who all went down to defeat when they ran for governor or the U.S. Senate -- Bill McBride, Jim Davis, Betty Castor, Alex Sink -- Murphy is not based out of Tampa Bay. He’s also a moderate who showed he can win in a competitive district where Republicans outnumber Democrats.
Murphy is only 31 and could be a factor in the years to come as Democrats look for statewide candidates in Florida. Republicans would be wise to shoot down this rising star as quickly as possible. But as Murphy claims the political center and the second string takes the field for the GOP, that task is looking increasingly difficult in 2014.
Tallahassee-based political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.