While Patrick Murphy spends the next month and a half jetting to congressional crash courses in Washington, Treasure Coast supporters of U.S. Rep. Allen West are wondering what the next step will be for the tea party's one-term icon.
West conceded to Murphy on Tuesday after challenging the race's results for two weeks following the election. West, R-Palm Beach Gardens, said Tuesday he thinks more inaccuracies exist in the District 18 vote count, but his legal team advised him they aren't enough to sway the election in his favor. He announced his concession on Fox News' Fox & Friends about 6:15 a.m.
Murphy, the congressman-elect, said at about 6 a.m. Tuesday he started getting phone calls from friends who shared the news. He said West hasn't called him.
"I appreciate his concession today," Murphy said Tuesday morning. "I'm excited, as I think the voters are of this district, to get to work and put this election behind us. It was too long, expensive and dirty, in my opinion."
Murphy's win stands at a lead of 1,904 votes, or 0.58 percent across Martin, St. Lucie and northern Palm Beach counties. Murphy declared victory 1:30 a.m. the morning after the election and called himself the winner throughout the recount process.
In one of the costliest and nastiest contests in the country, the state Election Canvassing Commission cemented Murphy's win by signing off on federal, state and multicounty results Tuesday in Tallahassee.
"While a contest of the election results might have changed the vote totals, we do not have evidence that the outcome would change," West said in a news release. "Given the extremely high evidentiary hurdles involved in a successful challenge, I will not ask my generous supporters to help fund a drawn-out, expensive legal effort with little chance of success."
Murphy has a second round of orientation for U.S. House freshmen members next week in Washington. He heads to Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government the following week for a conference on economic issues. He's already looking for apartments to rent in the capital. When Murphy is sworn in on Jan. 3, he will become the youngest member of Congress at 29 years old.
The accountant said his first choice for committee assignments is the House Committee on Financial Services. He said he's also interested in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, or the Small Business Committee, which West currently serves on.
Murphy will have offices in each District 18 county — one in Stuart, one in Palm Beach Gardens, and a St. Lucie County location to be determined, said campaign manager Anthony Kusich.
The consensus among pundits is that West could go work for Fox News, where he's appeared frequently during his one term. But West hasn't specified any plans, either politically or professionally.
St. Lucie County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Bill Paterson said he already encouraged West to run for the seat again in 2014 — a nonpresidential election year when Republicans expect to benefit from President Obama's absence on the ticket. West won his current Broward-Palm Beach District 22 seat in a 2010 midterm election with huge turnouts from the tea party.
Martin County Republican Executive Committee Chairwoman Susan Auld said "it's a little early to say" if West should take another crack at District 18. But the GOP planning will start soon to vie against Murphy in two years.
"I think Republicans are wanting that seat back," Auld said. "We want it now."
West has already declined an offer from the Republican Party leadership in his home state — Georgia — to run for Congress there. West said he didn't want to move his family around, explaining that he's "not an NFL free agent." Both West and Murphy moved north from Broward County to run in District 18.
Outside groups from Florida and beyond have already contacted Paterson about closely tracking Murphy's voting record, attendance and social life in Washington, he said.
Despite serving in a highly divided seat, Murphy said he will work to serve everyone in the district. He reached out to West supporters in a news release Tuesday.
"I'm sure there are some that will be tougher than others to win over," Murphy said. "But I do believe there are a lot of moderate Republicans in the district that care about the environment, that care about the economy, that want moderation, and just want to see the country go forward."
In the legal challenges, West cried foul on St. Lucie's results after both candidates lost a combined 799 votes in a recount of three early voting days. Supervisor of Elections Gertrude Walker said thousands of ballots from Nov. 1 through 3 were double counted, or not counted at all. The problem was remedied with the recount last Sunday, she said.
At the urging of West's legal team and his supporters, the canvassing board recounted all early votes Saturday and Sunday, but missed a noon deadline to report updated figures to the state. The adjusted numbers, which included
306 votes never counted, would've extended Murphy's margin of victory to 0.65 percent.
The state's Election Canvassing Commission — composed of Gov. Rick Scott, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi — certified the results Tuesday at the Capitol.
"It's always disappointing when something like that happens, but it didn't impact the election," Scott said to reporters afterward about St. Lucie missing its deadline.
West would have had 10 days after certification to pursue an election challenge. It would've required proving bribery, misconduct, fraud or corruption by a board member or election official; ineligibility of the winning candidate; or receipt of enough illegal votes or rejection of enough legal votes to change or place the election's outcome in doubt.
The congressman wasn't available for comment Tuesday, but the campaign will soon announce a barbecue at its Stuart headquarters, West spokeswoman Michele Hickford said.
St. Lucie and Palm Beach judges denied West's recount-related requests and nixed one Murphy attempt to block the St. Lucie recount ordered by the canvassing board. West also filed a lawsuit to force St. Lucie to re-tally its absentee ballots, but Judge Dan Vaughn opted not to rule on it since the motion was tacked late onto another challenge.
The Center for Responsive Politics tallied District 18 as the priciest House contest in the country, carrying an almost $24 million price tag that includes super PAC spending. BusinessWeek also called it the nastiest in the country. The district leans Republican by 2 percentage points.
West's national tea party support base funneled $17 million into his campaign, more than half coming from out-of-state donors. He spent $13.8 million, much of it on mailers and TV ads.
West's controversial statements about the opposing party stirred up his supporters and irked his critics. Most notably this cycle, West said at a Jensen Beach town hall meeting in April that 78 to 81 House Democrats in the Congressional Progressive Caucus were communists.
Murphy largely tailored himself as the anti-West, which helped him scrape together $3.6 million — one of the top hauls by Democrats. He shelled out $3.4 million, less than one-fourth of what West spent.
The candidates' personal attacks peaked when West ran a TV ad featuring Murphy's mug shot from 2003, when at 19 he was arrested for disorderly intoxication and using a fake ID outside a South Beach club. Charges were dropped.
Murphy countered with an ad about West's military service in Iraq, where in 2003 he fired a gun near a detainee's head. West faced a $5,000 fine but charges were dropped and he retired with full benefits."We wish Congressman Murphy elect very well, but now is not the time to try to draw a process out," West said on Fox & Friends. "We brought up some incredible voting irregularities, not just in St. Lucie County, but also some that we found in Palm Beach County. But now is not the time for the people of Congressional District 18 to be left in a lurch."