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Politics

Joe Garcia Replaces Patrick Murphy as GOP's Top Florida Target in Congress

October 24, 2013 - 6:00pm

Patrick Murphy was supposed to be the most vulnerable Democratic congressman in Florida, but increasingly its looking like that dubious distinction belongs to Joe Garcia.

After his close election to defeat Allen West, Murphy looked vulnerable, especially given the Republican lean in his district. But Murphy has proven a hard worker with strong constituent services unwilling to put himself in the middle of risky issues -- and has shown himself to be a strong fundraiser. By the end of September, he had brought in almost $1.62 million and spent less than $484,000.

Murphy has also been blessed with an underwhelming field of Republican opponents. West passed up running again so Murphy wont have a rematch against the former congressman. Theres still talk about Adam Hasner running against Murphy, but he hasnt jumped in yet.

Of the current Republican field, Carl Domino is in the pole position. He has more than $160,000 on hand, far more than the rest of the field, and could draw on his own money as the campaign continues. Dominos background in politics, the military and the private sector is impressive, but he does have some drawbacks, including losing Republican primaries for legislative seats in 2010 and 2012.

But Domino certainly doesnt have a commanding lead over the other Republicans. While Ellen Andel had less than $18,000 in the bank at the end of September, her team insists their efforts will ramp up in the weeks to come with the support of West and the Rooney family. Alan Schlesinger has more than $35,000 on hand, but he has more ties to Connecticut, where he ran against Joe Lieberman, than Florida. Calvin Turnquest recently jumped in but he did even worse than Domino in a Republican legislative primary last year. Ilya Katz is also in the mix, but appears to be just as much of a nonfactor as he was the last time he ran.

It comes as little surprise this week that Larry Sabato increased the Democrats' odds to keep this seat and some Republicans are still encouraging Hasner to get in. Murphys not a shoo-in but things are breaking his way in the early going.

In Miami, Garcia has also done well with fundraising, but ethics issues continue to swirl around his office. If it sounds familiar, a similar scenario helped propel Garcia over Republican David Rivera in 2012. Garcia has been working hard, stashing just under $1 million in the bank to ready himself for a heavy barrage of Republican attacks next year.

Republicans also have a real front-runner in the race in Carlos Curbelo. The Miami Dade School Board member has just under $410,000 in the bank, giving him a clear head start over his Republican rivals. Democrats are already drawing their fire on Curbelo while the national GOP is hammering away at Garcia.

Ed MacDougall, a former cop and Vietnam veteran, is a distant second to Curbelo on the Republican side. MacDougall served as mayor of Cutler Bay but he only had around $8,000 on hand at the end of September. The other candidates -- Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck, Joe Martinez and Jose Peixoto -- appear, for the moment, no threat to Curbelo. Perhaps the best news for Curbelo has been other top Republican candidates staying out of the race.

Garcias position is currently far more perilous than Murphys. Republicans have a clear front-runner in Curbelo who has shown the ability to fundraise. With leading Republicans already behind him, Curbelo should soon be able to reach out to the national GOP and consolidate his support.

Murphy has the luxury of a divided Republican field. If Domino, Hasner or someone else takes clear control on the Republican side, Murphys chances could diminish. But, for the moment, Garcia appears to be the leading target for Republicans.

Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis piece exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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