WASHINGTON -- It's going to be a long campaign season in Florida's 18th District.
Just three days after the state's primary election, Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) and his Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy are already sparring -- and it's just about setting up a debate schedule.
West sent Murphy a letter on Tuesday -- the same day that Murphy won the Democratic nomination -- challenging him to four debates. He proposed a debate in each of the three counties in their district, which runs along Florida's southeastern coast, and another one in the geographical center of the district. West also dictated what the topics of each debate would be: two on economic security, one on energy security and another on national security.
"The format, location, date and sponsor of each of these debates can be negotiated between a designated staff member of West for Congress and Murphy for Congress over the next several days," reads West's letter.
West began his letter by congratulating Murphy on his win, but he almost immediately began trashing Murphy for the tone of his campaign and accusing him of lacking substance.
"Since announcing your intention to run for the United States Congress, your campaign has been replete with negative attacks, but you have yet to offer specific ideas or solutions. It is time for you to address the issues," West said in the letter.
At first, Murphy's campaign didn't respond. But on Friday, he sent a letter saying it was a "pleasant surprise" that West asked him to debate, since West previously turned down invitations to debates and forums. Murphy also pointed out that West refused to debate his GOP primary opponent, Martin County Sheriff Robert Crowder, telling the Palm Beach Post at the time, "I refuse to waste the voters' time by dignifying Crowder's cynical political maneuvering."
But instead of agreeing to West's debates, Murphy proposed they debate at two specific events, both of which Murphy has already agreed to attend. The first would air on a local television show, "To The Point," and voters would submit topics ahead of time. The second would be moderated by the St. Lucie County League of Women Voters on Oct. 5.
Murphy said he hoped they could hold debates focused on substantive issues -- and criticized West for some of his controversial past comments.
"Since the beginning of your career, debate in a civil tone has not been one of your strong suits. Instead you have launched some of the most outrageous verbal attacks ever heard in modern politics," Murphy wrote. "Nevertheless, the voters deserve to see their candidates together in a civil debate of the serious problems facing our community and the nation."
So far, neither camp appears willing to agree to the other's debate proposition. A West campaign spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. Murphy campaign spokesman Anthony Kusich said Murphy's letter is essentially a "no" to West's debate proposal.
"You could say that," Kusich said.
The West-Murphy race is one of the most closely watched in the country, and it's already off to a fast start. Within 24 hours of winning his nomination, Murphy launched a television ad slamming West for twice voting to "end Medicare as we know it," a reference to West's support for the House Republican budget plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.). West pushed back, saying Democrats do not have a plan for preserving Medicare.