Murphy, Morris vie for Delaware GOP side of House race

DOVER — Lee Murphy and Matthew Hathaway Morris will square off Sept. 15 with hopes of earning the GOP nomination for the U.S. House and then unseating incumbent Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, who is seeking a third term in Washington, in November.

While acknowledging they have a significant challenge, they are hopeful. Both men said they believe Rep. Blunt Rochester is failing to represent the interests of most Delawareans. To them, frustration over the state of the country, such as coronavirus lockdowns, could power the GOP to victory this fall and help “keep America great.”

Mr. Murphy, who received the party endorsement in July (although the GOP cannot promote him until after the primary) describes himself as “a hard-working family man who understands the issues faced by people up and down the state” and someone uninterested in a long political career. A candidate for the same office in 2018, he lost the primary to Scott Walker, a perennial candidate who this year is running for governor.

A few weeks after the contest two years ago, the Delaware GOP announced it would not support Mr. Walker in the general election due to a series of racist, sexist and strange comments that “just infuriated the entire Republican Party.”

Lee Murphy

Mr. Murphy, a 68-year-old retired train engineer and conductor now seeking work as an actor, said he believes 2020 will be different.

His opponent, the 34-year-old Mr. Morris, is also running out of frustration with Rep. Blunt Rochester.

“For the past three years I have been out on the streets, in the communities, and I haven’t seen our congresswoman anywhere to be found. Delaware has risen to the second-highest state in overdoses -related deaths and after doing my research, our congresswoman sits on the committee that has been sitting on legislation holding up funding to our state,” he wrote in a questionnaire.

In an interview, Mr. Morris expressed some doubts about his chances, citing a May stroke. Although he’s doing better now, he has been unable to campaign as much as he hoped to, he said.

Mr. Morris believes his experiences in life, such as battling addiction and going through the criminal justice system, make him relatable and qualified to serve Delawareans in Congress.

There’s been a bit of controversy over him even being in the race due to a prior criminal conviction that has led some to accuse him of being ineligible to run. A conviction does not automatically disqualify an individual from seeking federal office.

Mr. Morris was convicted of aggravated assault, a felony, for a 2013 incident in which he and another individual beat up a man in Philadelphia. He served prison time for the attack, which he admits occurred but describes in a different light.

“I completely owned it, and the news article said that it was a gay hate crime. First and foremost, I’m gay. Second, there were other events that transpired that night that were off of camera, that were not taken into consideration,” he said.

Already emotional that night because he thought he had cancer, he got into a fight after some heavy drinking and responded in self-defense, Mr. Morris said.

He’s paid the price for the incident, he said, and is ready to help Delaware and the country.

Among his priorities is criminal justice reform, with particular focus on addiction. That reform includes making correctional facilities more rehabilitative and less punitive, with additional resources to help inmates prepare for life on the outside.

Mr. Murphy’s life has also been touched by addiction, and he ranks the opioid epidemic as very high on his list of issues to tackle.

Like his opponent, Mr. Murphy strives to bring people together, hoping to do something to heal the nation during these tumultuous times.

Matthew Morris

“I think it is important to point out that I believe we all have more in common in Delaware than differences. Families in Delaware have told me that they are concerned with the same things, regardless of race: jobs, the health and welfare of their family and their children and, especially of late, safety from violence and crime,” he wrote in a questionnaire.

“It pains me to see the division that our state and our country are experiencing today. Those that foment this divide for political or economic gain should be ashamed of themselves.”

Generational clash

Both candidates are strong supporters of free markets, gun rights and reopening schools and believe President Donald Trump’s tenure so far has been a success.

The younger Mr. Morris appears to be more of a Trump Republican, drawn to the party not so much by its fiscal conservatism and small-government ethos but by its opposition to immigration and support for “traditional values.” He backs “America first” policies like taxing companies that outsource jobs and ending “Globalist interests that are taking away from the American Dream,” as his website states.

Each man has concerns about law and order and the national unrest that has included many clashes between police and protesters.

Mr. Murphy said he is worried about the legitimacy of the 2020 elections, fearing mail-in voting will lead to widespread fraud. Mr. Morris, for his part, is “concerned with the legitimacy of elections ALL TOGETHER.”

Mr. Murphy also is troubled by government spending, something Mr. Morris declined to opine on. Mr. Murphy backs cutting “discretionary federal government spending that is not needed for the defense and survival of the country,” noting he supports some welfare programs like Medicare and Social Security but believes they “need to be redesigned or they will fail.”

A former candidate for the state Senate as well as Congress, he had a bit of a scare earlier this year when he contracted COVID. That experience, Mr. Murphy wrote, spurred him to become a convalescent plasma donor.

He’s taken some shots at Mr. Murphy on Twitter, accusing him of being afraid to take part in a debate and painting him as a phony

Mr. Morris is active on the social media platform.

He’s sent tweets conflating the Black Lives Matter movement with domestic terrorism, accusing California Democrats of being pedophiles and painting himself as fighting to save Delaware from “Marxist Antifa.”

A vote for him, he firmly believes, is a vote for unity and progress.

“We have to stop looking at people’s labels and learn to look into their hearts. I am not running for office because I want to or I need to fill a void,” he wrote. “I am running for office because I believe I have what it takes to stand for the people, and share my life experiences to benefit the people.

“That, I truly can and will make a difference. Not a single congressman has lived through the experiences I have and for that, we can make America not just great, but LOVE again.”

Sept. 15’s GOP primary is open only to registered Republicans. Visit elections.delaware.gov for more information, including details on how COVID is affecting the election.