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Of the eight new seats that Democrats picked up in the House of Representatives this November, four are from Florida. Democrats got a boost from a big turnout for President Obama. Plus, new rules that helped erase a Republican advantage in how Florida districts are drawn. NPR's Greg Allen profiles one of the new Democrats going to Capitol Hill from the Sunshine State. Patrick Murphy is already well known, thanks to the opponent he beat.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Not yet 30, it's a heady time for Patrick Murphy. He recently joined other incoming Democratic freshmen for orientation and a meeting with minority leader Nancy Pelosi, who singled him out for national attention.
REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI: ...a real representative of his generation, Congressman-elect Patrick Murphy.
REPRESENTATIVE-ELECT PATRICK MURPHY: And just defeated somebody you all may know. A guy named Allen West. You guys may have heard of him.
ALLEN: Murphy's talking about Allen West, the former Army lieutenant colonel who became one of the faces of the 2010 Freshmen Republican class in the House. West gained a national following through his frequent appearances on Fox News and his incendiary rhetoric - charging, for example, that at least 70 House Democrats were members of the Communist Party. West raised more than $18 million and outspent Murphy more than 4 to 1. But Murphy eked out a win, beating West by fewer than 2,000 votes.
MURPHY: Please excuse the mess, we're moving offices and...
ALLEN: Murphy's old campaign headquarters in Palm Beach County is mostly in boxes. He's scrambling to hire staff and set up district offices in the three counties he now represents along Florida's Atlantic coast. Although this was his first run for public office, Murphy comes from a politically active family that owns a major construction company in Florida. Until recently, the family's fundraising ties were mostly to GOP candidates and Murphy was registered as a Republican. Murphy says the war in Iraq and the economic downturn moved him toward the Democratic Party.
MURPHY: Then the Tea Party started, you know, taking hold and people like Allen West won in my backyard. And I just decided I'm not going to sit back and complain and not do anything about it.
ALLEN: Murphy announced he would run as a Democrat against West in Florida's 22nd congressional district. But then because of redistricting, West announced he was moving up Florida's coast and would seek re-election in an area more favorable to Republicans, Florida's 18th. There were more Republicans there, but most had never cast a ballot for West. Murphy's ads used West's incendiary comments against him and he says they paid off.
MURPHY: It wasn't necessarily the Democratic turnout that helped us win. It was the Republicans that crossed over that left Allen West to support us is why we won this race. So, I think a lot of people saw hopefully that my background was a better fit for getting our country back on the right track. And I continue to hope to prove that.
ALLEN: Murphy is a CPA, who calls himself a business Democrat and a moderate committed to bipartisanship. He says he and many other freshmen, Democrats and Republicans, ran on the promise that they'd work to end gridlock and get things done in Washington.
MURPHY: So, I think this election was much different than the 2010, the my-way-or-the-highway mentality. The American public saw it for two years. It wasn't working. In fact, it probably set our country back. And they want it changed.
DAVID WASSERMAN: Murphy portrays himself as a moderate Democrat. But the truth is there's not a whole lot of room for moderation in Congress anymore.
ALLEN: David Wasserman is an analyst with the Cook Political Report. He's skeptical that Murphy will be able to make good on some of those promises.
WASSERMAN: There aren't a lot of votes taken where you can truly show your differences from your party leadership. We see a lot of party-line votes, not a lot of nuance, not a lot that's brought to the floor where there's strong incentive to break from your party.
ALLEN: The 29-year-old Murphy says like many of his generation he's fiscally responsible but socially progressive. It's a moderate formula that the Democrat will need to accentuate if he hopes to win re-election in two years. His district is home to more Republicans than Democrats. The day it elected him it also went for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.