FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Patrick Murphy is a first-time candidate for Congress, running against Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) in an open seat race to represent parts of three counties north of West Palm Beach.
Murphy is native to the region, but West is a transplant: He was elected in 2010 from the 22nd Congressional District and moved north to a more competitive, evenly balanced district in hopes of winning reelection. Murphy said that West’s decision to move north convinced him it was time to run for Congress — despite being just 29 in a part of Florida that skews older.
2chambers spoke with Murphy ahead of our stop in Florida. The interview — edited for clarity and length — appears below:
2chambers: Why did you want to run for Congress?
Murphy: I got tired of the extremism and the bickering and the name-calling and my opponent is the epitome of that, whether it’s calling them defiled or despicable, or calling them communists or calling the president the dumbest person in America. That’s not what we need.
I just said, who the heck am I to sit here and complain and not do something about it?
[West] is a big part of what got me into this at the end of the day. My background as a CPA and small business owner is going to be helpful in getting the country back to work. I didn’t think I’d get involved right away, and he got elected in my backyard and that inspired me to do it.
2chambers: Your race has devolved into a conversation of what were you doing in Feburary 2003. What do you make of it?
Murphy: He started this, I didn’t have a negative ad against him. It started with him tricking people into thinking that I voted for the stimulus, and sent jobs to China – all these accusations that were not true. Then he attacked me for something that I did as a teenager.
We had decided as a campaign not to go after his military record, but he opened the door. He did not give all the facts as to what happened in 2003. The fact that I was a teenager I think is important to know. And the way he did this compare and contrast, he left out some details of what he did in the military. We’ll let the facts speak for themselves. But he’s been running away from this for awhile, and I think the voters deserve to know. He doesn’t wear this with pride, he doesn’t bring it up in interviews.
2chambers: But you understand the political risk of questioning someone’s military career, right?
Murphy: I’m not questioning anything, I’m simply raising the facts. I’m not try to reassess the Army’s ruling, they made their own assessment, and he was relieved of his command and those are the facts. I’m just letting people know the facts.
2chambers: Well let’s look at the facts surrounding your 2003 arrest: Where did you go to college?
Murphy: University of Miami.
2chambers: And you were arrested outside some kind of college party?
Murphy: It was a bar on Miami Beach.
2chambers: And was there ever any other similar incident?
Murphy: No, there wasn’t.
2chambers: Why had you decided not to raise the issue of West’s military service prior to his attack ad?
Murphy: Because the focus of the campaign should be on the visions for the country. We felt that what Alan West had said and done in the last year and a half, two years in Congress was important that voters knew that. That’s where the focus of my campaign was going to be, because his quotes and votes are dangerous for the country. That’s where we wanted to keep the focus and the vast majority of my ads were about my background and my experience and what I plan on doing and that’s job creation, protecting Social Security and Medicare for our seniors.
2chambers: This is the most unproductive and unpopular Congress in modern history. Why would you want to associate yourself with such an unpopular unproductive group?
Murphy: That’s what my father asked me – why get involved in politics and the bickering. The more broken it is, the more I want to get involved. I guess at the end of the day I’m naive enough to make a difference, and still believe that I can help out. The country is at such a tipping point and there are so many important decisions that need to be made.
Way too many voters are apathetic and don’t do their research and are on the sidelines. That’s their mistake and I want to be a part of the solution of getting our country back on the right track.
Who knows what being in Congress is going to be like, but I look forward to that opportunity and I hope that I’m effective and making positive changes for people.
2chambers: Do you run into any concerns in being so young?
Murphy: No, they [voters] love it. It’s one of the pros we constantly hear. All demographics say, gosh, Congress is so broken, it’s the definition of insanity. We don’t’ want to keep seeing the same people back, we want to see new thinking. It’s been a pro in most cases. I’m the only one in this race with experience in the private sector, they want someone who’s created jobs and aren’t worried about my age.
2chambers: But I think you’re familiar with the attacks against you. I’ve heard your opponents – and some Democrats – call you a spoiled rich kid who’s using your father’s money to run for Congress. How do you respond to those characterizations?
Murphy: That couldn’t be further from the truth. I worked as a day laborer throughout college, worked for Deloitte and Touche, got my CPA. It couldn’t be further from the truth. I think you know the rules with campaigns. We raised $3.5 million and that had nothing to do with my dad. We’re working our butts off and raising money from all over the country.
They can say whatever they’d like but I’m going to keep my head down and keep working hard.
2chambers: How can President Obama win in Florida?
Murphy: Gosh, two weeks ago he was up 9 points and today it was a much closer race. He’s going to have to continue coming down to campaign here. I think he’s gotta keep reminding voters the economy that he took over and what he’s been able to do. It has not recovered as quickly as he would have liked. He was dealt a bad hand, but we are on the path to recovery, things are turning around, we are seeing signs of life and things are turning around. He’s got to remind people of exactly what he inherited and how big our economy is and that this recession was much bigger than people realized at the time. He has to clear the air and make sure people know the facts.
When it comes to Social Security and Medicare, he has to make sure that people know what it does. The Ryan plan is something that people still don’t know about.
2chambers: You mentioned you’ve raised $3.5 million, your opponent has raised $14 million. How can you run against such a well-funded opponent?
Murphy: You’ve got to look past his revenue, look at his expenses. Last quarter he raised $2.2 million, he spent $1.9 million. His burn rate is incredible, the way he raises money is direct mail. So he burns through a lot with direct-mail fundraising. He usually spends about 75 percent of what he makes. We’ve been very competitive with him, but we’ve been outspent on the campaign and will probably continue to be, however, we’re in the ball park. Our TV time is there, we have a lot of help from outside groups, as does he.
Allen West has tried to rebrand himself down here. On a commercial down here, he’s said he’s going to protect Social Security and Medicare. Then he had a commercial about being a teacher and reaching across the aisle. But someone who’s bringing back McCarthyism and doubling down on those comments is hardly a moderate trying to do things in a bipartisan basis. That and the smear campaign attacking me for baseless things that simply aren’t true. If voters can see through that, then we’re going to win.
We get calls from Republicans every day who say we’re lifelong Republicans, but we’re not going to support West. We need fiscal responsibility, but he went off on a social right-wing agenda.
Look, I’m fiscally responsible and socially accepting and that’s where a lot of people are in this country and where a lot of people in this district are.