Patrick Murphy’s improbable victory over Allen West in Florida’s 18th Congressional election in 2012 made the then 29-year-old construction executive an immediate budding star in Florida Democratic politics. Outspent by more than four times than in a Republican-leaning district against a Tea Party hero, Murphy’s victory over West made national news. He followed that up by easily winning reelection against Republican Carl Domino in 2014.
Not even a full year later, he’s now the favorite of many establishment Democrats in the race for the open U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Marco Rubio, and on Saturday night he introduced himself to a sold-out, jammed pack room of over 300 Hillsborough County Democrats at the party’s Kennedy-King annual dinner at the Tampa Palms Golf & Country Club.
He’s also a former Republican, something that Alan Grayson frequently mentions on the campaign trail. The Orlando Congressman is Murphy’s main challenger in the race for the Democratic nomination for Senate next year.
“When I was first thinking of registering to vote, I looked at my dad, he’s my best friend and my dad’s a Republican, so I said, ‘heck, I guess that means I’m a Republican.’ So I registered as a Republican,” Murphy said in describing his political evolution.
“Then I started paying attention to what the party stood for,” he said. “I started looking at the casualties day after day during the Iraq war, how we were being lied to as a country.” Murphy says his distaste for what was happening to Iraq and then the Tea Party-led insurgence in 2010 made him sit up and say that that he didn’t want to just complain about the state of the nation, but actively do something about it. “So not only did I change parties, but I ran for office against Congressmen West, and we were elected by .5 percent in the most expensive race in the country.”
The now-32-year-old Murphy was one of the first candidates of either major party to declare his candidacy for Senate earlier this year. He said that some of his friends discouraged him for running for higher office, but he had two words for them in response: Allen West.
“He was the poster child about everything that was wrong in Washington,” Murphy said, referring to the bombastic Republican who became an icon to the Tea Party movement. “He cared more about getting a good headline than he did about helping the middle class. And the sad part is, the Senate is full of Allen Wests.”
Murphy’s demeanor is light years from West – or Grayson for that matter, who has never hesitated to mix it up with those he disagrees with.
Although Florida progressives have mocked Murphy for being too centrist, Murphy is solidly a mainstream Democrat in most of his positions, of which he touted on Saturday night – His support for wanting to help the middle class rise economically, for voting rights, comprehensive immigration reform, expanding Medicaid and raising the minimum wage.
In his brief time in Congress he’s made it part of his brand to work with anyone – meaning Republicans – to help improve the lives of Floridians and Americans. That voting record and attitude warms the heart of many in the Democratic Party establishment, who feel that a centrist is the only type of Democrat who can win a statewide office in Florida. It rankles liberals, who believe that formula has proven to be unsuccessful in too many statewide elections over the past decade.
“There should be no shame if you cross the aisle if it’s for something that’s going to help all Floridians, help all Americans,” Murphy said. “I want to be the Senator to restore that trust.”
Murphy talked about his work in launching a bipartisan caucus with the House class of 2012’s 84 freshmen that called themselves United Solutions to support an elusive “grand bargain” on deficits and spending that the nation’s leaders have failed to reach.”We identified $480 billion of wasteful, duplicative government spending. That’s your money. We’ve got to be more efficient.” And he talked about being part of a coalition of 239 Republicans and Democrats earlier this year to protect Medicare from benefit cuts.
“I’ll worked with anybody if it’s right for Florida,” he added.
He closed at the speech by trying to inspire the Hillsborough Democrats.
“Let’s send Tea Party extremists like Ted Cruz back to the minority and let’s make sure we keep a Democrat in the White House in 2016. Working togetrher we can all do great things for this state and for this country!,” as the crowd cheered.
Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Elizabeth Belcher said the party chose Murphy to keynote the Kennedy-King dinner when he was the only Democratic candidate in the Senate race. Grayson has been invited and will attend the party’s monthly meeting in Tampa next week.