Think Congressman Patrick Murphy Is Going Down? Not so Fast
Around the State
Don't think just because Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy is running in a primarily Republican district, he's a dead man walking. Murphy might actually turn into one of the blue team's safest bets for re-election in 2014.
Might. The election is still a good 12 months away. But, politically speaking, his district's troubled waters are turning into an early Christmas present for the Murphy campaign -- and they could be the gift that keeps on giving.
Murphy represents the 18th Congressional District. That's where an early and brutal rainy season forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to release massive quantities of water from Lake Okeechobee. These are discharges that riled waterways, turning the St. Lucie estuary and southern Indian River Lagoon into a toxic stew.
Angry and desperate, river-dependent residents in this Treasure Coast district are losing their jobs, their businesses, their way of life. They're looking for leadership on the federal level.
And there it was, instant limelight. Murphy couldn't have had a greater opportunity to shine laid at his feet. The people in District 18 called on their congressional delegation to help get the president's attention, get money from Congress, get forward movement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on local control of lake water releases and repair of the Herbert Hoover Dike.
The issue has made Murphy the center of attention in his district.
- At state Sen. Joe Negron's Aug. 22 Senate Select Committee on the water crisis, Murphy promised the community he would "call the president personally" to tell him pollution is killing the rivers.
- On Oct. 2, he was part of an organizing team that brought dozens of local residents to the nation's capital for a congressional hearing on Treasure Coast toxic water.
- On Oct. 8, he and Congressman Trey Radel, R-Fort Myers -- whose district feels the effects of the polluted discharges through the Caloosahatchee River -- combined on a letter of invitation to the president to come on down, see the condition of the waterways for himself. In part, the letter read, "Your administration’s attention to environmental issues leaves us with no doubt that once you bear witness to the destruction of our once thriving waterways, you will be all-in with our efforts to prioritize real solutions.”
Negron took one look at the six-page letter and crowed that he was "feeling the momentum building toward a President Obama visit."
Enthused Negron, who lives in District 18, “I think (an Obama visit) would make a big difference, just as it did when he went to New Jersey, billions of dollars later,” speaking of Obama’s visits to New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy. “It’s not just symbolic. I think it would result in more funding and also in revisiting the issue of the Corps.”
True, urgency for a presidential visit has diminished as the Treasure Coast creeps into the dry season and the Army Corps has suspended lake releases. (Negron wants to wrest lake releases away from the Corps and give the responsibility to the state.) But the president has a good reason to answer the call and return to Martin County to see the water for himself.
His political agenda.
The Democrats need 17 more seats to take control of the House; that goal isn't exactly likely, but it's totally out of the question if they lose more than a handful of the 40 seats they've targeted as vulnerable -- and Murphy's is one of those.
I believe the president's Air Force One will land in Stuart's little Witham Field soon. President Obama will go out to the St. Lucie Lock, or to some significantly affected part of the St. Lucie River, and there he will stand before a crowd of thousands, with his arm around Murphy's neck, thanking the freshman congressman for calling his attention to the river's plight and promising to make it a budget priority.
I believe that if the president does that -- knowing the depth of district residents' concern about their estuary and lagoon -- even Jesus Christ himself would have a tough time beating Patrick Murphy at the polls, at least in Martin and St. Lucie counties.
What put Murphy on the GOP target list, incidentally, was his narrow victory over Rep. Allen West in 2012. District 18 is one of only nine in the U.S. that chose a Democratic House member while voting for Mitt Romney in the last election.
As far as the Treasure Coast is concerned, where Murphy won by 2,429 votes out of 331,169 cast, the results might say more against Allen West than they do for Patrick Murphy, a candidate who moved into the district from Miami-Dade County and who switched parties in 2011.
One South Florida political consultant told me Murphy gets the edge from the liberal local newspaper's constant thumbs-up. "I think Murphy has done pretty well with the river crisis," the consultant said. "He's also got the newspaper folks predisposed to be in his corner. They lower the hoop to 7 feet and then rave about his slam dunking ability. Meanwhile, Scott shows up with $40 million and the editorial and news staff give him a critical stare."
He also disagreed with my assessment: "If I'm Murphy," he said, "I'm not sure having President Obama put his arms around me helps. It may indeed hurt me. It's still a Republican-performing district."
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423.