This week we learned what has been rumored for two months now – that Congressman Patrick Murphy, one of only eleven Democrats sitting in a Congressional Seat won by Mitt Romney in 2012 will not be a top target for the national GOP. The NRCC released its list of national targets earlier this week and FL-18 was missing. How did this happen and what lessons can be taken from it?
The Republicans pinned their hopes on attracting a top-tier challenger to Murphy knowing the district particularly in an off-year election may even be more hospitable for them. But the GOP didn’t count on Murphy’s strength both locally and in Washington. What Murphy developed was an independent brand quickly which froze the interest of those top-tier potential challengers on the Treasure Coast or in Palm Beach County. At the same time the race began to attract multiple marginal candidates the most well-known being former State Rep. Carl Domino whose record of electoral under-performance (even when winning) is legendary locally.
Murphy’s efforts complicated the Republicans quest for a viable challenger. He came out of the box as the number one freshman fundraiser in 2013 raising over a million in his first six months in office. He cultivated relationship with those who matter in Washington while tirelessly working hard to secure his base at home. At the same time, Murphy established a personal identity as a bipartisan moderate and a champion on local issues including environmental ones. In an area that favors Republicans but has a long history of supporting moderate GOPers from Congress down to the County Commission and School Board, Murphy positioned himself perfectly for the district. His voting record is probably to the left of much of the district, but on important local issues he has been engaged in a way many other Democrats in the delegation aren’t. Additionally, he has mixed some more conservative votes into his record which has helped solidify his bipartisan reputation.
All of this does not mean Murphy is out of the woods yet. A rough Democratic year would give whomever emerges from the six-way Republican primary an outside shot at a victory. But fundraising for the Republican candidates has been poor and Murphy has continued to work hard in his reelection knowing he cannot take anything for granted. In order to put Murphy’s district performance into context the Democrats at the State House and State Senate are likely this cycle to leave every single seat as Republican as Murphy’s unopposed or contested by second and third tier challengers who will not be helped by the party.
Should presumptive Democratic nominee Charlie Crist, a friend of Murphy’s run decently here, the Congressman should have no reelection worries. Crist’s views on environmental issues align nicely with the district and hopefully he can help turnaround what was a decline in Democratic vote in Martin County between 2008 and 2012. Crist is unlikely to carry the 18th District unless he wins the state in a landslide. But Murphy does not need him to carry the district, just to run respectably enough to where he does not drag the Democratic number down.
Murphy’s playbook is one that should be replicated by Florida Democrats running in marginal or GOP leaning districts. Work hard, dedicate yourself to local issues rather than partisanship and keep your eye on what really matters. Democrats could do with more like Murphy in tough districts.