In a Great Year and District for the GOP, This Democrat Won Big Anyway

Florida's Patrick Murphy managed a rare 2014 feat—keeping a conservative district in Democratic hands.

Rep. Patrick Murphy is part of a dwindling crew in Washington.

The territory Mitt Romney carried in 2012, like Murphy's district, proved to be a virtual minefield for congressional Democrats this year. Senate Republicans appear poised to run the table in states Romney won, and it was much the same in the House. Two veteran conservative-district Democrats, Jim Matheson and Mike McIntyre, retired and left their seats open to GOP takeover. Another two, Reps. John Barrow and Nick Rahall, saw their personal brands finally overtaken by local political trends in Georgia and West Virginia, respectively. Rep. Collin Peterson, the long-serving ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, had to fight to keep the same thing from happening to him in western Minnesota.

And then there's Murphy, the Florida freshman Democrat who not only won reelection last week in a district President Obama lost in 2012, but won nearly 60 percent of the district's votes.

"We can't tell exactly but we think we got about 33-percent Republican crossover support," Murphy said, adding that his campaign is planning to conduct a precinct-by-precinct analysis to arrive at a more precise estimate. (As in most House races, there's no exit polling available in Murphy's district.) If he's right, though, he may have won a larger share of registered Republicans than any swing-seat Democratic congressional candidate in the country.

"That's pretty cool. It's a great number, especially coming off the last race against [Allen] West and how divisive that was," Murphy continued.

Murphy spent his first two years in Congress studiously avoiding controversy, assembling a bipartisan voting record, and working local issues after winning one of the closest congressional races in the country in 2012. (National Journal characterized him as "boring like a fox" in 2013.) Republican foe Carl Domino's campaign manager, Larry Casey, grudgingly complimented Murphy's strategy after the 2014 election. "Patrick Murphy ran his campaign, and his last two years in Congress, as if he were the mayor of St. Lucie, Martin, and Palm Beach counties," Casey told The Palm Beach Post.

That's the playbook Murphy prescribes if Democrats aspire to retake the House of Representatives at some point. Obama may have won a majority of the country's votes in 2012, but he didn't win a majority of its congressional seats, and Democrats will have to expand beyond his coalition in order to control Congress again this decade.

"Bipartisanship is something both parties need to wake up to," Murphy said. "It's the only way we're really going to get anything done. If people really care about the issues, the answer's going to have to be in the middle ground."

It also doesn't hurt to raise money at such an accelerated clip that Republicans think twice about running against you. The GOP field that assembled to take on Murphy this election could have been stronger, a development inescapably intertwined with the fact that Murphy raised over $500,000 every three months from the day he took office—one of the highest fundraising rates in the country.

Meanwhile, Murphy's show of financial and vote-getting prowess this year means that some people may eventually eye him for higher office. Florida's Democratic Party is not well-stocked with rising talent, and Murphy, who turned 31 this year, is now constitutionally eligible, at least, to run for Senate. GOP Sen. Marco Rubio is up for reelection in 2016, but more importantly, the seat could be open if he runs for president.

"I don't put any thought into that," Murphy said. "My focus is obviously on my election and on my job. The better I am at doing my job, the more the elections will take care of themselves."