Voters in northern Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast have grown accustomed to nationalized congressional races, but the contest this fall between freshman Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, and Republican Carl Domino promises to have some prominent local themes.
Both Murphy and Domino say they plan to make the planned All Aboard Florida passenger train a big issue. And Murphy, a Democrat whose constituents lean slightly Republican, hopes to find nonpartisan common ground by highlighting his work on such close-to-home topics as Indian River Lagoon cleanup, Everglades restoration, beach renourishment and combating citrus greening.
Domino, an investment manager and former state House member who won a six-candidate GOP primary last week, wants a different debate. Aside from All Aboard Florida, Domino listed national issues — the Affordable Care Act, immigration and national security — as topics he plans to emphasize.
Murphy brings a much louder megaphone to the conversation. His campaign has raised more than $4.3 million, the most of any U.S. House Democrat seeking re-election this year, and recently began a $1.4 million TV ad campaign.
Domino has raised only about $200,000 from contributors while pumping $480,000 of his own money into his campaign. Most of that money was spent on the Republican primary, which Domino won with 38.4 percent of the vote. Domino plans to visit Washington next week in hopes of persuading the National Republican Congressional Committee and others to commit money to the race.
The NRCC has pledged money for TV ads in two other Florida congressional districts but made no commitment to District 18. But that could change, NRCC Political Director Rob Simms said.
“We’re not going to telegraph our strategies or tell the other guys what we’re going to do, but we think this is a Republican district and we’re very interested in trying to win it back,” Simms said.
Republicans have a 39.5-to-37.6 percent registration edge in District 18 and Mitt Romney got 51.5 percent of the vote there in the 2012 presidential election. Murphy narrowly defeated Republican Rep. Allen West to win the seat in a race that became a referendum on the conservative West’s fiery national profile. Outside groups spent $3.6 million against West and $3 million against Murphy. Murphy spent $4.3 million and West an eye-popping $17.8 million on the campaign.
Anticipating a good year nationally for Republicans, Domino says he’ll focus on issues that traditionally appeal to Republican voters across the country.
Domino has called Obamacare an “albatross” for Murphy. Murphy voted against Republican attempts to repeal the health care law, but joined Republicans in votes to delay its individual and employer mandates and to support a Republican “Keep Your Health Plan” bill allowing people with insurance plans that don’t meet the ACA’s standards to remain on them through the end of this year.
“I didn’t vote on it, obviously,” Murphy said of the health care law, which passed in 2010, before he was elected. “I wasn’t there when it was debated. My focus is getting it right. That’s where the conversation needs to be.”
Domino says he would vote to repeal the health care law, but concedes any repeal legislation would be vetoed while President Barack Obama is in office. While Murphy has supported delaying the law’s insurance mandates, Domino says they should be eliminated.
“It’s a job-killer,” Domino said of the employer mandate. “I think that the labor market will create health care products for employees better than mandates from Washington.”
On immigration, Murphy supports a bill passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate in 2013 that includes a pathway to citizenship for millions of people who are now in the country illegally. Domino says he’s opposed to any pathway to citizenship and believes tougher border security, enforcement of existing laws and holding employers accountable for hiring undocumented workers would lead many people who are in the country illegally to leave voluntarily.
Domino didn’t criticize Murphy on specific defense issues, but said he plans to tell voters that Murphy, as a Democrat, is “on the wrong team for national security.”
Both Murphy and Domino oppose All Aboard Florida, citing concerns about its noise and traffic impacts and its application for a $1.5 billion federal loan. But each says the other’s opposition is suspect.
Domino notes that Murphy joined 15 other House members last year in signing a letter to the federal Department of Transportation that asked authorities “to continue to work proactively and expeditiously to make sure that All Aboard Florida can meet their deadlines for this project.”
Since then, Murphy has become a vocal opponent of the project and written letters to federal authorities expressing “serious concerns” about its safety and financial soundness, urging the Coast Guard to hold hearings on the “potentially disastrous effects” from bridge closures and calling for a General Accounting Office review of “this financially risky and potentially disruptive project.”
While Domino has been critical of All Aboard Florida, his Republican primary foes noted that he voted in the Florida Legislature for a $1.2 billion rail project in Central Florida. Murphy’s campaign plans to echo that criticism.
“It is certainly something that we will be reminding voters about,” said Murphy chief of staff and campaign strategist Eric Johnson. “There’s only one person in this race that has ever voted for taxpayer funding for high-speed rail, and that’s Carl.”