U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., and challenger state Rep Mike Miller, R-Orlando, sparred repeatedly over policy at their final debate in Congressional District 7 on Tuesday but largely focused on policy instead of making it personal.
The hotly contested district is generally split between Democrats and Republicans with both parties seeing it as a bellwether of where the nation will go after November.
If voters at the Tiger Bay Club in Orlando were looking for something specific that distinguished the candidates, they likely walked away disappointed. Both of the candidates stuck to their party lines in explaining their policies despite Murphy’s repeated claims of bipartisanship. Murphy led by trying to showcase her independent credentials, telling the large crowd of politically connected voters she is a patriot not a partisan. Miller pointed out Murphy has voted with U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., 90 percent of the time, a fact he echoed after the debate when Florida Daily asked him about his opponent’s weakest points.
“I think she is beholden to her leader,” Miller said. “I think that Nancy Pelosi is going to make sure that she comes home on most of the big votes. She may get away with a vote here and there, which she tried to highlight in this debate, but the core votes for cutting taxes, for cutting regulations, for trying to make our country a stronger place, she has to vote with the leadership of the Democratic Party and that is not where this country is.”
Murphy’s counter was her refusal to commit to voting for Pelosi for speaker of the House if reelected and touting her work on the Problem Solvers Caucus. A bipartisan group of legislators that has a series of procedural demands with the aim of trying to break the gridlock, the caucus is focused on passing spending bills in a timely manner.
When Miller was asked who he would back for speaker, he produced one of the lighter moments of the 90 minute debate. Miller told the crowd he would support Andrew McCarthy–the name of an actor–for speaker. Miller chuckled when Murphy corrected him to say he meant U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
Much of the debate sounded like a series of talking points that came straight from Washington. In his opening, Miller made a simple case for his political philosophy: less taxes. Less spending, and less government equals more freedom and he would try and govern that way. On the question of the economy, Murphy said she wants an economy “that works for all,” a standard DC Democrat talking point.
After the debate, Murphy pointed to the economy as a fundamental difference between the two candidates and insisted Miller does not understand it.
“He thinks the world is going gangbusters and it’s great but he is confusing Main Street for Wall Street,” Murphy said. “Things on Wall Street are the statistics that he cites. He supports a tax bill that benefits the largest corporations and the wealthiest above the working class, middle class Americans. I think we always have to put people first.”
She also ripped Miller for being singularly loyal to President Donald Trump and the Republican Party.
The candidates agreed on impeachment with both of them saying the right way to go is to follow the Constitution and that high crimes and misdemeanors is the proper grounds for impeaching a president. They also agreed that both parties should work together to help the victims of Hurricane Michael and get reimbursements to local governments that spent reserves making repairs from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Climate change was a hot topic at the debate. Murphy took aim at Trump for leaving the Paris Accords. She also called for investing in a green economy. Miller on the other hand agreed the planet was warming but said he did not believe the problem was man made. While he also wants to look at clean energy alternatives, Miller believes the president was right to withdraw from the Paris agreement.
The debate sounded like what would be said by politicians debating both sides on a national talk show. Whoever wins in November will represent much of east Orange County and all of Seminole County.
Reach Mike Synan at Mike.Synan@floridadaily.com.