Patrick Murphy: 'This is a picture with my girlfriend from my 20s, a college girlfriend'
TAMPA -- The Facebook photo has been circulating for weeks among GOP circles: a fresh-faced Patrick Murphy sitting at a table with one arm around a woman and a few fingers of his other hand apparently on her breast.
During Monday night's debate, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio tried to use the photo as a weapon against Murphy, a Democratic U.S. House member running to unseat the West Miami Republican.
Murphy has criticized Rubio for his support for Donald Trump, especially after allegations about Trump's treatment of women. In the latter half of the debate, Rubio turned the tables and referenced Murphy's photo, calling it "inappropriate behavior." Murphy appeared flustered.
On Tuesday, Murphy, 33, dismissed the photo as an artifact from his early 20s and said Rubio's attempts to use it against him were "low" and "desperate."
"Look, when Donald Trump goes low, Marco Rubio goes lower," Murphy told reporters after a campaign event in West Tampa. "This is a picture with my girlfriend from my 20s, a college girlfriend. I dated her for four years, and we were at dinner."
Murphy graduated from the University of Miami in 2006. He first ran for the U.S. House in 2011, winning his Palm Beach County-Treasure Coast seat in the 2012 election.
"Look, Marco Rubio showed just how desperate he was last night by trying to wiggle, and got himself in this knot about Donald Trump," Murphy said. "He's trying to pivot and change the subject. It was very clear to me how uncomfortable Marco Rubio was when talking about Donald Trump and someone who's bragging about sexually assaulting women. It's unbelievable to me.
Asked later to elaborate on the date and circumstances of the photo, a Murphy spokesman said the campaign would let the congressman's words stand on their own.
Murphy also addressed another Rubio allegation from the debate: that Murphy's family's construction management company, Coastal Construction Group, made millions from Trump real estate projects.
It's a talking point that Murphy's Democratic primary opponent Alan Grayson used during that phase of the campaign. It's a lie, said Murphy, who previously worked for Coastal and served as vice president of one of its subsidiaries before running for Congress.
Coastal built two condo towers in South Florida, Trump Royale and Trump Hollywood, but had nothing to do with the licensing agreements that resulted in the names, Murphy said.
"We never had a contract with Donald Trump," Murphy said. "We work with developers and do the construction for them.... What the developer names the building, what they call it, has nothing to do with us."
Murphy, who is trying to increase his name recognition among Latino voters, swung into West Tampa for the event held at the Hillary Clinton campaign office that was billed as a "roundtable with Hispanic leaders." He sat a table flanked by some of the city's best known Hispanic Democrats, including City Council members Charlie Miranda and Frank Suarez.
Frank Sanchez, a Tampa native who served as President Obama's Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade, introduced Murphy as "a remarkable leader."
"He has made his mark," Sanchez said. "People in Congress respect Patrick and are anxious to have him back there."
Murphy talked briefly and took a few questions, hitting on immigration reform, making college more affordable and increasing access to health care by improving the Affordable Care Act. He praised Obama's efforts to normalize relations with Cuba.
"Let's do what the Castros are fearing the most and give them capitalism," Murphy said. "No one does freedom better than America. I'd much rather see Carnival cruise ships there than Russian destroyers and spy ships. From a national security standpoint, this makes us stronger."