Rep. Allen West makes a point during a debate with Patrick Murphy in West… (Richard Graulich / Palm…)
WASHINGTON -- In a race seen as a test of the strength for the tea party movement, Democrat Patrick Murphy appeared poised to defeat freshman Rep. Allen West, a top tea party figure, in Florida’s 18th Congressional District.
The race was one of the tightest House contests in the country, with Murphy receiving 50.4% of the vote to West’s 49.6%. With all precincts reporting by Wednesday morning, Murphy’s .8-point lead was greater than the .5-point margin that would trigger a recount, but West had not conceded.
West is the first black Republican congressman to represent Florida since Reconstruction. He was part of a small group of incumbents facing a close reelection, and he was forced to campaign in new territory after redistricting made his original district considerably more Democratic. The new territory, which is now District 18, includes St. Lucie, Martin and northern Palm Beach counties.
West was elected in the tea party wave of 2010. He has been one of the more prominent faces of the movement, especially because of his tendency to make provocative and controversial statements about his colleagues.
He has called House Democrats “communists” and has accused President Obama of wanting Americans “to be his slave and be economically dependent on him.” And he waged a very public dispute with fellow Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the Democratic National Committee, calling her “vile, unprofessional and despicable” in a letter to fellow members of Congress after she criticized his position on Medicare.
West is also a prolific fundraiser. He had raised a stunning $17 million by mid-October, to Murphy’s $3.6 million. The race was expected to rank among the most expensive House contests in history.
Murphy, 29, is a political neophyte who has said it was West’s “divisive” approach to governing that persuaded him to join the race. He criticized West for turning Congress into “a kid’s playground,” with “the taunts, the name-calling, the bullying.”
Murphy declared victory early Wednesday morning.
“I pledge to be a representative who will work across the aisle, listen to all points of views, and work to end the divisiveness in Congress,” he said in a statement. “Our country faces many challenges, and by working together we will continue to move our country forward.”
[FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this post stated incorrectly stated Patrick Murphy's age. He is 29, not 30.]