WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Florida Rep. Patrick Murphy announced his campaign Monday to seek the Senate seat expected to be left vacant by Marco Rubio's likely presidential bid.
The second-term Democrat — who won national exposure and the affection of many in his own party when he unseated firebrand tea party Rep. Allen West in 2012 — confirmed his candidacy to The Associated Press, making him the first to formalize a bid for the seat. Murphy, 31, will run regardless of Rubio's decision, and though he could face tough competition, he focused his initial attention squarely on the first-term senator.
"For years, Sen. Rubio has put the needs of Floridians behind his presidential ambitions," Murphy said in a statement. "We need a leader in the Senate whose eyes are firmly fixed on the people of Florida by working together to get things done."
Murphy immediately becomes a formidable candidate, regardless of who else runs.
He defeated West as a 29-year-old political novice in a district that tilts slightly Republican. Two years later, in a re-election bid many anticipated would be close, he easily turned away his challenger.
A prolific fundraiser who has won many voters with his moderation, Murphy has never faced much in the way of a primary. His aisle-crossing, likely an asset in a general election, could become a target for a Democratic primary opponent. He was previously a Republican who donated to the 2008 campaign of Mitt Romney, among others. And he has parted ways with the Democratic leadership, voting to create a House committee to investigate the Benghazi, Libya, attack that killed four Americans; voting in favor of the Keystone pipeline; and co-sponsoring the GOP-led "Keep Your Health Plan Act," which would have allowed insurers to continue offering plans that didn't meet Affordable Care Act rules.
In a written statement, Murphy called himself "a consensus-builder" and "an independent voice."
"Washington is full of hyper-partisan politicians who can't or won't get anything done and Florida deserves better," he said.
Murphy's announcement comes after two higher-profile Democrats — former Gov. Charlie Crist and Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz — said they wouldn't run. Among others who have expressed interest in the race is Rep. Alan Grayson, posing the chance of a primary matchup between a controversial liberal and the much more moderate Murphy.
Rubio has said he would not seek re-election to the Senate while pursuing the presidency, and a number of Republicans are said to be eyeing his seat, including Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and Jeff Atwater, the state's chief financial officer.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee welcomed Murphy to the race by launching an attack website and a statement deriding him for "already asking Floridians for a promotion" after just one term in the House.
"Patrick Murphy is an overly ambitious Washington politician who needs to grow up and the United States Senate doesn't have a kids table," said NRSC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek.
Murphy, a native Floridian, was an accountant before working for his family's construction company. In launching his political career, he targeted West, who he said was "an embarrassment to the country." When redrawn boundaries made West's district far less favorable to the GOP, the Republican bolted for one further north and Murphy followed. The resulting contest was epic, culminating in weeks of recounts and court appearances before West finally conceded.
It still ranks as the most expensive House race in U.S. history, and made Murphy the youngest member of the 113th Congress.
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