Morgan Murtaugh is likely the most unusual candidate running this election cycle—at 26, she’s the youngest one running for Congress, she’s Republican, she’s the descendant of Mexican immigrants, and she’s running against a 17-year incumbent in a district that is predominantly Democrat. She also has never held public office.
“Go big or go home, right?” she told The Epoch Times.
She said she decided to run for Congress because she was “really upset by the fact that people can’t seem to have a conversation anymore [in Washington] … it’s time we had a more moderate voice.“
That impetus colors much of her campaign. While campaigning in a district that has elected the same Democrat for almost two decades, she focuses on issues instead of party affiliation, and only brings it up if people ask.
To get her message out, she talks to as many people as she can, and isn’t afraid to do it in somewhat unconventional ways.
Among her more creative outreach ideas are sending hand-written notes to would-be constituents, calling people on their birthdays, and performing at a music festival outside San Diego (she is a former karaoke DJ and singer-songwriter). After leaving her job as a producer and commentator at the right-leaning One America News Network, she started working for the web-based delivery service Postmates both to pay her bills and meet prospective voters.
“I’m trying to get to people in places where they wouldn’t expect it,” she said. “It gives me an opportunity to put my face in front of them and shake their hand in a way that … a lot of people don’t answer doors to strangers anymore.”
Compared to the incumbent, Susan Davis, she has a lot of work to do to get her name out.
Before running for Congress, Davis represented the state’s 76th Assembly District, which is north of San Diego, and has been the area’s U.S. Representative since the lines were redrawn from Congressional District 49 to create District 53 in 2001. She was first elected to Congress when Murtaugh was eight years old.
“You know a lot of Democrats have actually decided that they’re going to vote for me because I’m willing to have these conversations with them,” Murtaugh said. “People are just tired of career politicians, are tired of the same-old.”
This is my neighbor William. He’s a registered Democrat, but supports me because of who I am as a person, not the party I affiliate with. William is just one of many others who feel the same way. I believe we can and will make a difference in today’s political climate. pic.twitter.com/mlClsQSuMP
— Morgan Murtaugh (@morganmurtaugh) October 13, 2018
She compares Davis to Big Foot—heard of but never seen, a characterization that Davis takes issue with.
“My constituents not only see me personally, but they see the job I’ve done for them,” she said in an emailed statement. “I’m home in San Diego often and am very present and accessible. I meet with every constituent who asks and am regularly out listening to constituents in their communities.”
So far, no polls have been done to give insight into where people stand on the two candidates. FiveThirtyEight gives Murtaugh a 0.1 percent chance of winning, while the Cook Political Report ranks the district as D+14 on its partisan voter index, which measures how the district voted at the presidential level compared to the nation as a whole.
It’s clear, however, who is winning the fund-raising race. According to the Federal Election Commission, Davis has raised around $375,300 and spent around $389,800 this year, while Murtaugh has raised around $70,800 and spent around $59,200.
Money doesn’t always equal votes, however, as the nation saw in the primary race between 29-year-old Bronx resident Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Democrat incumbent from Queens, Rep. Joe Crowley. At the time of her victory, Ocasio-Cortez had raised around $300,000 to Crowley’s $3 million.
If Murtaugh does win, though, it will be a more startling upset. Davis has defeated every Republican, independent, Green Party, and Libertarian candidate who has run against her since she started running for the seat. Her biggest challenger was incumbent Republican Brian Bilbray, who she beat in 2000 by 3.5 percentage points when the district was still CA-49.
Davis says she never takes elections for granted.
“I’ve always said the best campaign strategy is to do a good job of representing the district. When voters look at their choices for the 53rd, they will see that I share their values—as they have repeatedly,” she said.
Murtaugh believes that her values are her strong suit, describing herself as socially liberal and fiscally conservative, a mix she believes is appreciated by many Californians who favor the state’s liberal policies, except when they have to pay taxes.
If elected, she says she will work to cut taxes, promote jobs, take the government out of marriage, protect the Second Amendment, give states jurisdiction on marijuana legalization, protect the environment, and work to secure the border, which she considers an issue of national security.