Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica and his Democratic opponent Stephanie Murphy found surprisingly much to agree on — though they wouldn’t admit it — yet that included the mutual disdain on display in a debate exclusively presented Friday by WESH-2 News in Orlando.
During the debate, produced by WESH Friday morning, moderated by political reporter Greg Fox, and presented online Friday afternoon, the pair of Winter Park candidates for Florida’s 7th Congressional District tried hard to disagree on issues such as U.S. military involvement in Yemen, guns, and women’s issues, yet often demonstrated they disagreed only on details.
The real differences emerged only as Mica accused Murphy of running a nasty campaign to distort and demean his reputation, and Murphy accused Mica of blindly supporting Donald Trump regardless of what the Republican presidential candidate says or does.
Mica is a 12-term congressman who suddenly finds himself in a real fight for re-election in a redrawn district with a well-funded opponent. He sought to dismiss Murphy as someone with little background of accomplishment and Washington Democrats calling the shots for her campaign.
“She was their last choice. They got her at the last minute. They couldn’t find anyone credible in Central Florida to run against me. So what they did was pledged $4 million. So far they have spent $2 million. And talk about distortion!”, a clearly frustrated Mica declared. “How can this candidate accept the distortion that they put against me? I’ve been the hardest working member of Congress for Central Florida. I’ve done more for this community …. They’re trying to buy a seat and demean their congressman.”
Murphy, a former U.S. Defense Department anti-terrorism analyst and a business professor at Rollins College, sought to portray Mica as overly partisan, someone who no longer represents the interests of people in Central Florida. That, she said, is particularly evident when so many Republicans are turning away from Trump, but Mica is not.
Mica said he would continue to support the Republican nominee although he said he considered some of Trump’s statements “vulgar” and said he disagreed with many of them.
“He is either putting his policies ahead of his principals, or those are his principals. Either way, it’s wrong,” she said. Later she added, “I am sorry that Congressman Mica feels that highlighting his voting record is in some way demeaning to him,” she said.
Murphy presented herself as the embodiment of the American Dream, someone whose family escaped Vietnam in a boat lift, arriving with nothing, and as someone worked hard through school and college and into an analyst’s job at the U.S. Department of Defense, a career as a businesswoman, an educator, and a mother.
Mica presented himself as a congressman who has delivered for Central Florida, helping lead bipartisan efforts to bring federal money and support for SunRail, Interstate 4, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Orlando International Airport, the military simulation center and other things.
Time and again, Mica tried to belittle Murphy’s experience and background, at one point seeking to draw a contrast between “someone who served as a junior analyst in the DOD, and my position as a senior member of the National Security Oversight Subcommittee in the House.”
Time and again, she tried to characterize him as someone who has repeatedly voted against the interests of women and against Central Floridians who want, in the wake of the Pulse nightclub massacre, more restrictions on guns. At one point she charged he was “owned” by the NRA.
Yet each time the pair tried to disagree on issues — women’s rights, guns, the Iran nuclear deal, the current American military confrontation with rebels in Yemen — one or the other would challenge accusations that he or she was taking an extreme position. Mica argued he has voted for women’s bills, including funding for Planned Parenthood, although he said he would never vote for federal funding for abortion. Murphy said she supported efforts to “de-nuclearize” Iran but had concerns Iran remains free to develop conventional weapons and sponsor terror. Mica insisted he could support gun legislation to prevent terrorist watch-list members from obtaining weapons. Murphy avoided answering Fox’s question on she would seek bans on military-style weapons or high-capacity ammunition magazines.