Any Republican who’s serious about challenging freshman Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, next year should put a campaign organization together before October and be prepared to raise $3 million to $5 million, the GOP’s top House candidate recruiter says.
Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., who is the National Republican Congressional Committee’s vice chairman for recruitment, was in South Florida last week to chat with some potential candidates and offer a reality check to the host of Republicans who have been eyeing Murphy’s Palm Beach-Treasure Coast District 18 seat.
McHenry met with former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner on Thursday and businessman Gary Uber on Friday. He met with state Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, and former state Rep. Carl Domino in Washington earlier in the week and has also had a sit-down with St. Lucie County Commissioner Tod Mowery.
McHenry didn’t rule out the possibility of future meetings with other Republicans who have entered or are pondering the race. That list includes Juno Beach Councilwoman Ellen Andel, former Tequesta councilman Calvin Turnquest and Alan Schlesinger, a former GOP Senate nominee in Connecticut who now lives in Palm Beach County.
After quoting the $3 million to $5 million estimate for what a Republican candidate will need, McHenry said, “We’re in an expensive district. … I would say that Murphy and his father are knowledgeable fundraisers and Murphy and his father have had a good first quarter. So we need a Republican who can go toe-to-toe on the fundraising side and have grass-roots support.”
Democrat Murphy raised more than $4.7 million for his nationally watched 2012 unseating of Republican Allen West. Murphy began April with $672,013 in cash on hand for his 2014 re-election effort. Murphy’s father, Coastal Construction CEO Thomas Murphy Jr., contributed $550,000 last year to PACs that ran ads attacking West.
Of the Republicans on the District 18 radar, only Hasner has raised the kind of money the national GOP is looking for. He collected nearly $3.4 million for his 2012 loss to eventual Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, in a Democrat-leaning Palm Beach-Broward district.
Harrell’s top haul was the $772,150 she raised for an unsuccessful 2008 GOP primary bid for Congress. Domino, who listed his net worth at $24.3 million in 2011, raised $156,720 and added $592,000 of his own money during a losing 2010 GOP primary for state Senate. Since 2000, Domino has poured more than $1.3 million of his own money into four winning and and three losing campaigns.
Schlesinger raised only $120,984 and added $100,000 of his own money when he was the GOP Senate nominee in Connecticut in 2006. His candidacy was overpowered by former Sen. Joe Lieberman, who ran as an independent after losing the Democratic primary that year. Much of the GOP establishment backed independent Lieberman in his general election victory over Democrat Ned Lamont; Schlesinger was a distant third with 9.6 percent.
To compete financially against Murphy next year, McHenry said, a Republican candidate should launch a campaign by the “late third quarter,” which ends Sept. 30.
District 18 is a top priority for national Republicans because it’s one of only nine House districts in the U.S. that voted for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and for a Democratic House member in 2012. It’s the only such seat in Florida.
“This is a center-right district, not a center-left district,” McHenry said.
— McHenry’s Florida recruiting trip also included a stop in Miami, where Republicans hope to reclaim the seat that Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Miami, won from Republican David Rivera last year.
McHenry did not have any visits scheduled with potential Republican challengers to Frankel, but he maintained that the GOP considers Frankel a target. Frankel beat Hasner by 9 points last year in a district where Dems have a 9-point registration advantage.
—State Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, represents the district that includes Wynnebrook Elementary School, but Pafford didn’t join Gov. Rick Scott when he visited the school last week to tout teacher pay raises. Pafford is a frequent Scott critic, but said his absence was due to a scheduling conflict and not political disagreements.
State Rep. Pat Rooney Jr., R-West Palm Beach, and Democratic County Commissioner Paulette Burdick attended along with four members of the nonpartisan school board.
Pafford is part of the House Democratic leadership team as policy chairman. While Scott was still on the Wynnebrook campus, the Republican Party of Florida sent out an email accusing Pafford of being “out of step” with his own party on education spending because he was one of only 10 House Democrats to vote against the $74.5 billion budget approved May 3. Five of the 10 Democratic “no” votes on the budget came from members of Democratic leadership. While voting against the overall budget, Pafford supported the teacher raises.