Stephanie Murphy volleying challenge from Leo Valentin in CD 7

Stephanie Murphy_Leo Valentin
Murphy campaigns with confidence.

If Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy is the most vulnerable-looking member of Congress in Central Florida in Tuesday’s General Election, she hasn’t been showing it.

Murphy, challenged this year in Florida’s 7th Congressional District by Republican Dr. Leo Valentin, has run a few TV commercials and put out a few mailers and digital advertisements.

But a few weeks ago, Murphy, of Winter Park, started spending her campaign money on things other than campaigning, providing a few direct contributions to other Democrats around the state, and putting some into get-out-the-vote efforts.

Overconfident? Many observers say careless overconfidence helped cost her predecessor, Republican Rep. John Mica, the seat in 2016.

Valentin, of Orlando, has tried hard to paint Murphy as someone who owes debts to the Democrats’ leftist wing, to socialists, and even to communists in China, citing her husband’s business dealings in that country.

Valentin is Puerto Rican and has pressed that background, hoping to sway the significant Puerto Rican community in CD 7. He is a doctor and former hospital administrator and has pressed his knowledge of health care systems, though his health care plan is largely that of President Donald Trump.

Murphy’s demeanor, rhetoric and political and legislative actions have been nothing if not careful. She has characterized herself as a fiscal and national security moderate in a purple district, joining all the centrist congressional caucuses.

Her campaign has included subtle rebukes of Valentin’s challenges. Her family fled communism in Vietnam, her TV commercials start. She has run Spanish commercials with glowing endorsements from Puerto Rican leaders about her efforts for the territory and its people. From there her advertising has emphasized the words unite, effective, and bipartisan.

There also is an independent candidate in the contest, William Garlington of Oviedo.

CD 7 covers all of Seminole County and the core of Orange County, taking in the northern suburbs of Maitland, Winter Park and Eatonville, downtown Orlando, the surrounding urban neighborhoods, the central suburbs of Belle Isle and Edgewood, and parts of northeastern Orange, through the University of Central Florida.

The district has trended from reliably red a few years ago to deep purple, even a little on the blue side now. Book closing reports from the Florida Division of Elections give Democrats about a 5-point advantage in voter registration. Republicans have a slight edge in Seminole, where about 62% of the voters live. Democrats dominate on the Orange side of the district.

As happened in 2018, Murphy’s fiscal policies have won her the backing of a usually Republican stalwart, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and a handful of other national business groups. Valentin has won the backing of some local chambers and business groups. But business money has poured into Murphy’s campaign, and only trickled into Valentin’s.

Valentin won a close Republican primary in August.

Other outside partisan groups have seemed to lose interest in the CD 7 race race this year.

In 2016, when an upstart Murphy knocked off Mica, she did so with a huge wave of outside money. He received a big wave too, late, as Republican groups came to realize he was in trouble. In total, outside groups spent more than $6 million in surrogate campaigns while Mica and Murphy spent every nickel they could get.

In 2018, when an established Murphy needed to fend off a challenge from a popular Republican Rep. Mike Miller, outside money was less eager. Still, some came. About $2 million in outside money was spent on the CD 7 race.

This year there has been almost none. The National Republican Congressional Committee wrote the CD 7 contest off early. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which largely carried Murphy in 2016, has moved its chips elsewhere.

Roughly $330,000 had been spent by independent groups through the latest federal campaign finance reports, through Monday, mostly on mailers.

Roughly $180,000 came from Liberty, Family, Future PAC, which isn’t really outside money. It is a single-candidate super PAC set up exclusively to support Valentin, and funded mostly by his family.

The other $150,00 has been spent in CD 7 by the Center Forward Committee, a  super PAC that purports to support moderate Democrats, in this case, Murphy.

Scott Powers

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 [email protected]


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