The Congresswoman once dubbed “the girl rescued at sea” is now on her way to becoming what her predecessor had been until she ended his career: a veteran member of Congress.
Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy brushed off an election challenge from Republican Dr. Leo Valentin Tuesday, winning her third term in the kind of campaign candidates usually run in safe districts.
Murphy’s victory, by an unofficial early return of 58% to 41%, also accentuates the evolution of her district from red to purple to blue. Independent candidate William Garlington of Oviedo siphoned off 1%.
Her coattails were heavily sought by similar candidates running within her district, Democratic women seeking to win in Senate District 9 and House Districts 28, 29, 30 and 47.
Murphy, of Winter Park, had started her political career less than five months before the 2016 election in which she upset Republican Rep. John Mica, whose 12-term career had put him in leadership positions in the House Republican caucus.
Murphy’s background was as an analyst with the U.S. Department of Defense, as someone in small business, and as a professor at Rollins College. The backstory that set her apart from many other candidates was that she had been an infant when her family fled communism in Vietnam as boat people, to be rescued at sea by the U.S. Navy.
Together with backing from several Central Florida businesses, notably Full Sail University, and from the House Democratic leadership, she upset Mica. She won easy reelection in 2018, and an easier reelection Tuesday night.
In Congress, Murphy fashioned herself as a moderate on economic and national defense issues and a liberal on social issues, including abortion, gun control and racial equality. She took a leadership position in the moderate congressional Blue Dog Coalition and the Problem Solvers Caucus. At the same time, she authored and got passed the first meaningful gun law reform of the 21st century, abolishing the 1990s “Dickey Amendment.”
It was a combination that appealed to a sizable number of voters in CD 7, which covers Seminole County and parts of northern, eastern and central Orange County.
The mix also won her strong backing from some business groups, including the Chamber of Commerce of the United States. That helped her deflect the kinds of assertions many Republicans — including Valentin — had tried to use, that Democratic opponents somehow would fall sway to socialists and even communists.
Valentin, an Orlando radiologist and former Puerto Rico doctor administrator, won a three-way Republican primary to earn a shot at Murphy. Yet he never quite transitioned from a primary platform, heavy on red-meat conservative rhetoric and support for President Donald Trump, to one that might have had broader appeal to the largely suburban, mostly college-educated electorate in CD 7.