Mur­phy up against nine GOP op­po­nents

Repub­li­cans rang­ing from 24 to 81 lin­ing up to run against US Rep.

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Steven Le­mon­gello

Enough Repub­li­cans to field a baseball team lined up for their chance to de­feat Demo­cratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Mur­phy in 2020, a mod­er­ate Demo­crat who rep­re­sents an evenly split district.

So far, nine Repub­li­cans filed ei­ther with the state or the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion to run in the pri­mary. They range in age from 24 to 81 and have a wide va­ri­ety of back­grounds and ex­pe­ri­ence. One al­ready has dropped out.

But un­like in 2018, when the GOP nom­i­nated former state Rep. Mike Miller, there’s no big name so far this time among her po­ten­tial op­po­nents.

And her district in Semi­nole and cen­tral Orange coun­ties, ex­perts say, is trend­ing more Demo­cratic com­pared with four years ago.

Mur­phy, of Win­ter Park, de­feated Miller by 15 per­cent­age points to win re-elec­tion in 2018, im­prov­ing on her 3-point win over GOP in­cum­bent John Mica in 2016. The non­par­ti­san Cook Po­lit­i­cal Report lists her District 7 as “Solid Demo­cratic” de­spite an al­most even num­ber of Demo­crat, Repub­li­can and in­de­pen­dent vot­ers.

Mur­phy has also raised more than $1 mil­lion this year for 2020, dwarf­ing what Repub­li­cans have raised so far.

The field, mean­while, has al­ready nar­rowed. Anti-hu­man traf­fick­ing ad­vo­cate Janet Ed­wards – who had raised the sec­ond-most

amount of money out of the GOP can­di­dates as of the third quar­ter – dropped out in July.

And UCF stu­dent Ar­mani So­lado, of Win­ter Springs, who at age 24 made head­lines ear­lier this year by be­com­ing one of the youngest can­di­dates to file to run for Congress, hasn’t pro­vided any new in­for­ma­tion to the FEC since Au­gust.

He also has been post­ing pos­i­tive state­ments about Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Tulsi Gab­bard on Face­book. Sal­ado could not be reached for com­ment.

The re­main­ing can­di­dates would face a con­gress­woman who has carved out a rep­u­ta­tion as a mod­er­ate. Mur­phy has worked with the Trump White House to make a deal on the USMCA trade pact and was one of the rare Democrats to get the en­dorse­ment of the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce in 2018.

So far, no cur­rent or former state leg­is­la­tors have jumped in the race. And while the Semi­nole County Repub­li­can Party posted a now-deleted Face­book poll in Oc­to­ber ask­ing whether Semi­nole Tax Col­lec­tor Joel Green­berg could win in a matchup with Mur­phy, Green­berg – who has been un­der re­cently fire for his of­fice’s spend­ing – isn’t among the Repub­li­cans who filed ei­ther.

In­stead, there’s a mix of busi­ness­peo­ple and a med­i­cal pro­fes­sional, with the only of­fice­holder com­ing from out­side District 7 in Vo­lu­sia County. DeBary Coun­cil­man Stephen Ba­con, 81, ran against Mica in the GOP pri­mary in 2010 and said he’s long wanted to run for Congress again.

“I just felt [Mur­phy] would be a good can­di­date to beat,” said Ba­con, whose plat­form in­cludes shoring up So­cial Se­cu­rity. “I know the is­sues in Semi­nole County are very sim­i­lar to DeBary.”

In­vestor Yukong Zhao, 56, of Or­lando, cited his busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence and said he would “fight against the so­cial­ist pro­grams of­fered by the Demo­cratic can­di­date.”

“I’m a con­sis­tent, proven leader and prob­lem solver,” Zhao said.

Also run­ning are Ven­nia Fran­cois, 46, of Win­ter Springs, a former U.S. Se­nate aide who ran in 2018; Richard Goble, 59, of Lake Mary, a former Semi­nole Repub­li­can state com­mit­tee­man and busi­ness­man; busi­ness ex­ec­u­tive Mike Thibodeau, 57, of Or­lando; and Thomas Delia, 31, a busi­ness man­ager and Na­tional Guards­man from Del­tona. Those can­di­dates could not be reached for com­ment.

But the lat­est can­di­date, ra­di­ol­ogy doc­tor Leo Valentin, 39, of Del­tona, made one of the big­gest splashes by an­nounc­ing he had raised $100,000 his first week.

Valentin hasn’t filed a quar­terly FEC report yet, and his trea­surer would not give more de­tails about donors, but Valentin said the $100,000 was not a self-loan.

“I think a grow­ing part of the pub­lic is tired of Wash­ing­ton elites want­ing con­trol of the way they live their lives,” Valentin said.

He crit­i­cized Mur­phy for her early en­dorse­ment of former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke for pres­i­dent – be­fore O’Rourke’s con­tro­ver­sial com­ments about manda­tory gun con­fis­ca­tion, which Mur­phy has not backed – and for her back­ing of an im­peach­ment in­quiry against Pres­i­dent Trump.

Mur­phy’s sup­port for an im­peach­ment in­quiry into Pres­i­dent Trump’s ac­tions in­volv­ing Ukraine came af­ter months of cau­tious­ness about a process that could “grind our na­tion to a halt,” as she told a town hall in July. And it has led Repub­li­cans to think they have an open­ing against her.

“Stephanie Mur­phy’s race has been on our tar­get list since last year,” said Na­tional Repub­li­can Con­gres­sional Com­mit­tee spokes­woman Camille Gallo. “Mur­phy has caved to the so­cial­ist Democrats in Wash­ing­ton by sup­port­ing the im­peach­ment sham, and Florid­i­ans will no longer be­lieve her phony mod­er­ate act.”

In Oc­to­ber, the state GOP led a protest out­side Mur­phy’s San­ford of­fice to crit­i­cize her sup­port of an in­quiry, though the event drew an equal num­ber of coun­ter­protesters.

Valentin, Zhao and Ba­con all said they op­posed im­peach­ment, with Valentin call­ing it “more Wash­ing­ton pol­i­tics,” Zhao stat­ing he doesn’t think Trump’s ac­tions are high crimes and mis­de­meanors and Ba­con said Trump was “just ask­ing ques­tions” about former Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den and his son. Mur­phy hasn’t said how she will vote on im­peach­ment. But, her cam­paign spokesman Chip Har­ris said, “Whether folks agree with Stephanie Mur­phy on im­peach­ment, they ap­pre­ci­ate her de­lib­er­ate, dis­pas­sion­ate ap­proach to the process, one fo­cused on un­cov­er­ing the truth and get­ting the facts.”

He added, “the im­peach­ment process will not keep Stephanie Mur­phy from get­ting re­sults for her district, which is why, as a mem­ber of the trade sub­com­mit­tee, she’s been work­ing with rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the House and the White House to ad­vance USMCA.”

The GOP pri­mary is Aug. 18. The gen­eral elec­tion is Nov. 3.

JOE BUR­BANK/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Mur­phy ap­plies lapel pins for Viet­nam vets dur­ing a cer­e­mony at VFW Post 5405 in Win­ter Springs on Nov. 6.

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