A decision by a Democratic House candidate to switch districts mid-race has given Democrats a viable candidate against Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) and averted a potentially bruising primary in one fell swoop.

Democrat Patrick Murphy announced Tuesday he will follow West to a neighboring district, backed by national Democratic figures who lauded his decision.


Murphy and former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois FrankelLois Jane FrankelFrankel defeats Loomer in Florida House race Live updates: Democrats seek to extend House advantage Shakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' MORE (D) had both been eyeing a coup against West, a polarizing conservative figure who tops Democrats' list of 2012 targets. Both had been raising big-dollar figures, but nothing close to the $1.75 million West raised just in the last three months of 2011.

Redistricting made West's competitive district even more difficult for a Republican to win, and he announced in January he would run instead in the neighboring district of Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), who is switching to an open, Republican-leaning district.

The game of GOP musical chairs left West without a Democratic challenger in Rooney's former district, and also left Murphy and Frankel to battle it out without a common foe. Frankel made clear she planned to stick it out in the district that West was departing, while Murphy called West a "coward" for running from a fight and said he would continue to monitor the redistricting process, which is still in flux.

But Murphy left behind his own primary fight against Frankel on Tuesday by announcing he would take his campaign to West's new district. He told supporters in an email that discussions with national Democrats had assured him he would have overwhelming support.

"Allen West can run, but he can't hide," Murphy said. "Sorry, Allen, there is no safe district for you." 

Murphy spokesman Eric Johnson said he planned to move to the new district, and is intimately familiar with the Palm Beach-area district.

A source close to Frankel's campaign said the two candidates had not spoken beforehand about the possibility of Murphy switching districts, and that there had been no negotiations between the two campaigns.

"I look forward to working side by side with Patrick to fight for Florida’s families in Washington," Frankel said in a statement.

But there was little ambiguity about the fact that Murphy's decision to avoid an intra-party battle and take his chances against West in a more competitive district for Republicans had been welcomed by national Democrats, who are hoping West's seat can be one of the 25 they need to flip to regain control of the House in November.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) and the head of the Florida Democratic Party both issued statements applauding Murphy's decision. And Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents the district where West actually lives, said she had been impressed by Murphy's energy, discipline and fundraising ability.

"I am thrilled he is going to continue to take this fight to Allen West and confident he will defeat him in November," Wasserman Schultz said.

A source with knowledge of Murphy's campaign said it was Murphy who went to Democrats to gauge support for a move to West's new district, not the other way around, and that Democrats in Washington had made it clear they would do what they could to help him succeed.

"They are obviously supportive," the source said. "Everybody wants Patrick to win this race."

The National Republican Congressional Committee issued a statement charging Murphy with disparaging West — a veteran — by calling him a coward.

"But the real question remains clear: Who really is Patrick Murphy?" said NRCC spokesman Nat Sillin. "His sense of entitlement may lead him to believe he deserves a seat in Congress, and that big government knows what is best for Floridians, but that’s far from reality.”

- This post was updated at 3:07 p.m.