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Yukong Zhao, RIchard Goble, Leo Valentin debate for the Republican race to run in CD 7, hosted by the Orlando Republican Women's Federation.

2020

In first debate, Republican candidates target Stephanie Murphy’s moderate label

Yukong Zhao, Richard Goble, Leo Valentin offer ideas on how to beat Stephanie Murphy

Would a congressional moderate vote against the 2017 tax cut bill? Would a moderate vote to impeach President Donald Trump? Would one support ObamaCare? Work with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi?

Three Republican candidates vying to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in this year’s election eagerly sought to explain how they see the incumbent in Florida’s 7th Congressional District as not the moderate she portrays herself to be.

And even if she is, they contended, she doesn’t represent the more conservative values they believe remain at the heart of the district’s interests in Seminole County and northern and central Orange County.

“She’s not really a moderate in many aspects, because she does represent a party that is extremely left and and extremely out of the mainstream,” offered financial broker Richard Goble of Longwood.

“Both her family and my family suffered from socialism. Guess what? She’s aligned with socialists, like AOC [U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York] and Bernie Sanders. I’m against socialism,” said Yukong Zhao, an Orlando Chinese-American businessman and activist who immigrated from China.

“When she describes herself as a moderate we need to really think about what she is referring to. I think there are some things you cannot be moderate about in life. You cannot be moderate about justice. You cannot be moderate about liberty,” said Leo Valentin, an Orlando physician.

Goble, Zhao and Valentin were the three, out of six, Republican candidates who showed up at a debate sponsored by the Orlando Republican Women’s Federation Friday night in Orlando. Orlando lawyer Vennia Francois, DeBary City Councilman Stephen Bacon and small business managerThomas Delia did not come.

Goble, Zhao and Valentin were given opportunities to distinguish themselves against each other, and to offer what will emerge as unique about them in the crowded primary field.

Goble pointed to his experience as a capitalist who started a publicly-traded company, as a longtime politically active conservative committed to 2nd Amendment rights and in opposing abortion, and against “endless wars,’ as someone continues to be a rebel in financial markets advocating more freedom of trade, and someone with financial resources to campaign.

Zhao pressed his background as someone who suffered under communist rule in China, came to the United States and succeeded at the American dream, and became a nationally-recognized activist pursuing civil rights for Asian-Americans, taking on and defeating Harvard University in a landmark admissions discrimination case.

Valentin offered his record as a small business owner, as a manager of a hospital, and as someone with a deep understanding of America’s troubled health care system and a passionate commitment to individual liberty, smaller government, lower taxes and lower regulation. He also touted his campaign fundraising ability, attracting $250,000 in two months.

But many of the questions explicitly pressed them to talk about what’s likley to be their biggest challenge: taking on two-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Murphy, who has positioned herself as a leader in the moderate wing of the Democratic Party, and drawn endorsements, including from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to support that position.

They all shared several views of Murphy.

Murphy’s vote last month to impeach Trump was, in Goble’s words, tantamount to a vote to “overthrow an election.”

Murphy’s 2017 vote against the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 was a vote against the economics that are leading the United States into prosperity. “We’ll go after her on that,” Goble said.

Murphy’s support of the Affordable Health Care Act puts her a step away from what Valentin contended was undeclared support for Medicare for All.

Murphy’s participation in a party that also includes Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez  and is led in Congress by Pelosi means she cannot escape guilt by association with socialist ideas. “We have other instances of when she voted with Pelosi,” Valentin said.

Each of the three pressed the need to explain conservative values to the voters, and to point out how Murphy diverges from them on issues including gun rights, abortion, economics, and Trump.

Lost in that view may be polls, some cited at the debate, that suggest that CD 7, which includes a more liberal community around the University of Central Florida and outright progressive communities near downtown Orlando, might be purple enough that such values might not achieve a majority.

“I think getting the message out about freedom and capitalism is important. They don’t hear that,” Goble said, specifically referring to UCF students. “They don’t know how capitalism works. You just have to get that message out to them. They have to understand that our safety nets will be in jeopardy if we go forward into socialism.”

“The important thing is to see the results in our economy. We’re creating jobs and unemployment is low,” Valentin said.

“Number one is my personal suffering in communist China. I know how bad socialism is,” Zhao said.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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