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Crowded GOP Field Battles to Take On Patrick Murphy

August 3, 2014 - 6:00pm

In a six-way contest among Republicans to take on well-funded Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy in a Southeast Florida district, much of the focus is on former state Rep. Carl Domino.

That may not be the view of others in the Congressional District 18 race. But the national GOP hasn't latched on to any of the potential challengers to Murphy, and Domino's money dominates the primary. Most of the sniping -- predominately fixated on a planned passenger rail service -- is directed Domino's way in the Republican-leaning district that teeters ever so slightly this year toward the incumbent Democrat.

With the Aug. 26 primary winner potentially needing support from just a third of the voters who turn out, and the candidates mostly agreeing on key conservative issues, two items -- Domino's money and the attention from other candidates -- have become important, said Kevin Wagner, an associate professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University.

"First, Domino has the resources and is able to compete at a level the other candidates are not," Wagner said. "Second, the other candidates are all attacking Domino and he's only attacking Murphy, which suggests that he and his opponents think he is the leader."

The other candidates are Beverly Hires, a health care attorney and former nurse; Brian Lara, a consultant for an investment management firm; former Connecticut State Rep. Alan Schlesinger; former Tequesta Village Council member Calvin Turnquest; and Nick Wukoson, a former police officer who co-owns a small business.

"It's going to be close, but I don't think we're going to need a huge number of voters to win this election," said Turnquest, who estimated the winner could receive between 27 percent and 30 percent of the vote.

The general election contest, considered even a year ago, is projected as swinging toward Murphy, according to the Rothenberg Political Report and prominent analyst Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. The Cook Political Report shifted the race from a "tossup" to leaning Democrat on Aug. 1.

Murphy entered July with $2.67 million on hand from the $3.5 million he's raised since the start of 2013.

Domino entered July with $289,306 left from the $425,000 he had loaned his own campaign and $181,108 he's received in contributions. Lara was at $76,572 and Schlesinger was at $28,439, Hires stood with $3,726, and Wukoson maintained $1,843.

Turnquest, who had raised $57,628, reported his campaign account as being $2,292 in debt. But Turnquest got a boost Monday, when the high-profile conservative blog RedState endorsed him.

Domino, a Jupiter investment manager and former Navy commander who has bolstered his campaign through extensive use of his own checkbook, said internal polling has put him at the head of the pack.

That doesn't mean he is taking his opponents for granted. He said he may soon begin to run ads that respond to attacks on him.

Still, his advertising has been aimed for some time at Murphy, a centrist who defeated tea party stalwart Allen West two years ago.

"I've got to focus on Murphy, because I've got to show that I can beat Murphy so that I can get money out of Washington," Domino said. "There is no point to winning the primary and not being competitive with Murphy."

Domino said the biggest difference between himself and the rest of the primary candidates is that they are mostly unknown while he has a track record in Tallahassee. But Domino's wealth and track record didn't help in 2010 when was soundly defeated in a GOP primary by former Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, in a Senate race.

Bogdanoff was also coming out of the state House, where she had risen to majority whip.

After Domino, Turnquest might have the highest name recognition based on his having been an elected official from 2007 through 2012 in Tequesta, a small northern Palm Beach County community. He has also been courting local politicians, including those in Palm Beach County, a part of the congressional district he says others are conceding to Domino.

Hires, who has made health-care reform a big part of her platform, has garnered attention for her sharp attacks on Domino, such as disputing his level of opposition to the proposed Miami-to-Orlando All Aboard Florida passenger rail service.

The rail service is set to run without stops through District 18, which covers St. Lucie and Martin counties along with the more populated regions of northeastern Palm Beach County.

Hires could support the rail project if the Coral Gables-based rail company, a division of Florida East Coast Industries, relocated at its expense the tracks west, away from the more densely populated coastal regions.

Meanwhile, her campaign has focused on Domino having voted for the $1.2 billion SunRail project in Central Florida, while he was in the state House.

"We haven't heard him clearly state, come out and denounce Florida East Coast for its surreptitious way to expand freight service upgrades on the backs of taxpayers and we haven't heard much from him to protect our waterways from bridge closing throughout the day from the addition of 32 additional passenger trains," said Hires' campaign manager Rollin Reisinger.

Turnquest also questioned Domino's populist-pleasing "Fix Congress First" proposal, which would set eight-year term limits on those in the U.S. House and recalculate congressional salaries to the median pay of the districts that representatives serve.

"It's elitist," Turnquest said. "You're going to have a situation where only the wealthy will be representatives in Congress. Who is going to represent the middle class? (Domino) has $25 million. He doesn't need the money. But it's a great sound bite."

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