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Pennsylvania Grudge Match: Iraq Vet Patrick Murphy Battles Old GOP Foe

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FAIRLESS HILLS, Pa. -- The fighting Irishmen of Pennsylvania's 8th congressional district pulled no punches in the final two debates of a bellwether race that will tell just how the beleaguered Democrats will fare on Nov. 2.

Rep. Patrick Murphy, the incumbent Democrat, pummeled his opponent as "the tax cut fairy" because he wants to extend the Bush tax cuts to "the Paris Hiltons of the world" even though it will cost the treasury $700 billion over 10 years.

Republican Mike Fitzpatrick, who lost the suburban Philadelphia House seat to Murphy after a single term, punched back that the Democrat "ought to go back and take basic economics at the community college because I think you missed a course" on the advantages of free trade.

"When he had the chance to lead, he did nothing," Murphy counterpunched at another point as he repeatedly interrupted and cut off his opponent.

"I was in Congress for two years," Fitzpatrick jabbed back, "but the congressman likes to blame me for everything that's gone wrong in this country for the last 20 years."

Two hours after moderator Larry Kane closed "the fight in Fairless Hills," the two battled it out again in Bristol.

This is as personal as it gets. Yet how this campaign ends may hinge on something much bigger than both of them.

In 2006, Murphy rode a Democratic wave of anti-war fervor to unseat Fitzpatrick and become the first Iraq war veteran elected to Congress. But his margin of victory in this swing district was a mere 1,518 votes. Now, hobbled by a paltry job approval rating, he faces a Republican tsunami that threatens to wash him out of office in a similarly tight race.

"This grudge match was tight in 2006 and could be so again in 2010," said Isaac Wood, who follows House races at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics and has rated the race as leaning Republican. "This time it is Democrats who are on their heels, and Murphy has never run a race in an environment that did not favor his party."

Murphy cruised to re-election two years ago against an underfunded opponent and with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket. Fitzpatrick sat out the race to undergo chemotherapy after being diagnosed with colon cancer. Declared cancer-free by doctors, the 47-year-old decided to use his new lease on life to stage a political comeback.

Fitzpatrick held a double-digit lead in last month's Franklin and Marshall College Poll but a more recent survey shows him trailing Murphy by three points. Although the race has narrowed, the national Democratic campaign committee this week canceled ads on Murphy's behalf in the expensive Philadelphia TV market, an act of triage that indicated other embattled incumbents may be more salvageable.

Obama still on the ballot

When Fitzpatrick, a long-time Bucks County commissioner, ran the first time for what would be a short sojourn on Capitol Hill, registered Republicans outnumbered Democrats in the 8th District. Since then, Democrats have taken the lead.

But these Democrats overwhelmingly favored Hillary Clinton over Obama in their party's 2008 primary. Though Obama went on to win the district by nine points over John McCain, many conservative Democrats and independents here have not forgotten that Murphy was one of the first members of Congress to throw his support behind the senator from Illinois.

"It's so close because Murphy is as close to Obama as any member of the House," said political scientist Terry Madonna, who runs the Franklin and Marshall poll.

Fitzpatrick has used the incumbent's close association with Obama and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi -- she tapped him to lead the party in urging a troop withdrawal from Iraq and pushing to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays -- as a cudgel. He often cites the congressman's positions on health care reform, cap-and-trade and "cash for clunkers" as evidence he "votes lockstep with the Obama-Pelosi agenda 97 percent of the time."

That line prompted head nodding at the candidates' first debate Thursday at a mostly Republican Chamber of Commerce meeting here.

"Murphy is for more socialism. I am not for socialism," said Maria Wallace, 62, a customer service representative from Bristol. "He's an Obama man."

Murphy, a Blue Dog Democrat and at 37 one of the youngest members of Congress, counters that he is an independent voice who has bucked Pelosi and the party establishment. He notes that on immigration he opposed a federal lawsuit to strike down Arizona's controversial law and agreed with his GOP opponent that undocumented immigrants should be deported.

"When my party is right, I'm with them," he said. "When they're wrong, I'm not with them."

The Democrat, in turn, has slammed Fitzpatrick on his 2005 vote for the Central American Free Trade Agreement, saying it helped send thousands of American jobs overseas. He often mentions the Jones New York plant in Bristol that closed the year after the CAFTA vote.

Tamar Wirth's daughter was one of the workers who lost her job when Jones New York shipped its pattern-making operations overseas. Wirth voted for Fitzpatrick in 2004. "Then he did exactly the opposite of what he said he would do," said Wirth, 74, of Levittown. "I don't trust him." She plans to vote for Murphy this time.

'A bipolar district'

The son of a Philadelphia cop, Murphy hasn't lost his thick Philly accent. Or his penchant for sometimes salty language. He has even likened Fitzpatrick to "an Alabama Republican." Epithets don't get much nastier in the Northeast.

"Murphy is a very emotional candidate. He let's his feelings out," said Kane, a long-time political observer known locally as the dean of Philadelphia news anchors. Fitzpatrick -- who more than once in the debates pleaded "Congressman, please. Let me be heard on this." -- is more "energetically low-key," he said.

The contrast in styles mirrors a district made up bucolic and industrial Bucks County as well as a sliver of working class northeast Philadelphia, where Murphy grew up. It encompasses Levittown, the iconic post-World War II suburb where Fitzpatrick lived, and the country homes of New York theater types like Stephen Sondheim.

The 8th is "a bipolar district" said Rutgers University political scientist Ross Baker. While the lower, blue-collar half has suffered greatly from the recession, the top, more liberal half has fared well thanks to steady real estate prices. "The district has always swung back and forth and anyone holding the seat is forever at risk, be that person Democrat or Republican," he said.

At the moment, it is the Democrat's seat to lose. The National Republican Congressional Committee has spent more than $225,000 to help Fitzpatrick take back his old seat. It plans to stay on the air until Election Day even as its Democratic counterpart has pulled out.

Despite his party's departure, local Democrats are rallying to Murphy, who is blanketing TV and radio with negative ads and still leads in fundraising. "His saving grace is that he is sitting on a pile of cash," Madonna said.

Then again, four years ago it was Fitzpatrick who had more cash. And he hasn't forgotten whom voters eventually sent to Washington.
Filed Under: 2010 Elections

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Murphy is in lock-step with the Obama administration...which is not good for our military and our veterns...wake up people...Obama as a senator (when he was not out campaigning) was part of the majority in congress for the last two years of the prior administration...he was part of the majority who wrote the bills that president Bush signed (foolishly)in Bush's attempt to get things done in a bi-partisian way and to keep funding and supporting our fighting men & was Obama who is more to blame than a lame duck president (Bush) who was a leader fighting two wars...Obama only voted "no" in congress (check his record)for anything that president Bush and the republicians tried to do for our troops (don;t forget that) Obama wanted to keep down the military funding and put our already there fighing men and women in danger. Don't forget America - don't believe the lies that Obama is saying...Look back in history - you will never find a sitting president blame and accuse the former president more than Obama - yet only want to make a place in history for himself...Murphy walks with this sorry excuse for a leader - yet while Murphy and others like him were off fighting - Obama was in Washington doing everything he could to vote on party lines, go counter to president Bush and put our warriors in danger....If Murphy was not on the Democratic side - he could admit the truth - as an independent, I can see with my own eyes that following Obama is wrong. Murphy is thus the wrong way to go.

October 29 2010 at 10:40 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
mount carmine

i think its time to remove all the incombence both parties they have done nothing for the USA except suck up free healthcare amongst other things

October 23 2010 at 9:37 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I say keep Murphy in there. He is a combat veteran. I am tired of those non veterans sending young men to war without experiencing what happens. We need to reinstitute the draft and draft every able bodied person not married with children. That way we have more veterans in Congress and the Senate serving. Also neither Barack Obama , Bill Clinton never served in the Armed Service. GeorgeW. Bush never sexperienced combat. He was in RotC big joke. Wake Up America support veterans in every way you can that includes voting for them.

October 23 2010 at 7:54 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

If Democrats have cut funds for advertising, their own internal polling shows that Murphy has lost this election. The polls we are seeing on TV and the internet are nothing more than vote driving polls. The left is going to lose big this election, at this time the media is just trying to keep the losses as low as they can. Poor Obama is looking pretty pathetic right now...he refuses to stay in DC and let give the Democrats a chance, so they have to carefully chose where he goes...often bribing college kids with A's to get them to fill the audiences so he can get his ego fix! Oh yes they did!

October 23 2010 at 6:10 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

The people here in PA are just plain old angry. We have been sold out by both parties. Were told by Ed Rendell that if the casino's went in our property taxes would go down and it would create jobs. Well, property taxes didn't go up -- but going down, NOPE!!! The casino's did create jobs, those minimum wage jobs -- the real good ones, the casino brought the employees with them. There is alot wrong right now here in PA. Going forward alot of people here are going to hold some feet to the fire. Or in 12 months, another round of Novemember layoffs

October 23 2010 at 5:35 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jkennedy806's comment

Well, just let NJ take PA. MONEY as a special road was built to cary PA's People to Atlantic CITY!!!

October 23 2010 at 5:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As a Bucks County resident I can tell you that the next job Murphy creates will be his first. He took the last election in the anti-Bush backlash and has been Pelosi's rubber stamp ever since... He, and every other incumbent from either Party needs to go... There has never been a more worthless bunch of legislators...

October 23 2010 at 5:32 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

I will go with the findings of the student from UCLA re: Tea Party. Sorry I don't trust the media anymore and all their so called surveys.

October 23 2010 at 4:06 PM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply

I say let the Republicans win. Then people will see they're no better than Democrats and when the house and senate are controlled by Republicans and see they don't do anything either, they'll go back to Democrats. Everyone's just playing tennis here.

October 23 2010 at 3:56 PM Report abuse -8 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kingladekahn's comment

If they see the Republicans are no better than Democrats, why on earth would they go back to the Democrats? We KNOW the Democrats will just go wild with spending on the welfare class again! At least with Republicans I know I will be able to keep a bit more of my own money! I say Republican's have two years to start some serious spending cuts...if Obama veto's those cuts we will increase their numbers in 2012 and get rid of Obama, giving them a real opportunity. If they still fail, out they go and in come even more conserative Tea Party candidates! The Tea Party will have some real strength by then and will be putting up some serious contenders. You didn't really think they were going away did you?

October 23 2010 at 5:53 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply

Your best bet: hire the vet = Patrick Murphy!!!

October 23 2010 at 8:32 AM Report abuse -17 rate up rate down Reply

To the people of Pennsylvania, We need your help to elect Rep. Patrick Murphy, the incumbent Democrat. Republicans don't respect the office of the Presidency by yelling out, "You lie" in front of the entire country. I'll bet they don't want to believe their party lost. People of Pennsylvania be careful who you vote for this election, there are bigoted people running as TEA or Republican party members. Let me give you examples of how the Republican/TEA party members are acting: ==> Sharron Angle's comment of "you look Asian" truly sickens me since I am "Hispanic" and we don't look Asian! I look white just like her!! ==> Tancredo in Colorado. Tancredo had a specifically calling President Obama, "Barack Hussein Obama", to specifically identify the President as "Hussein" to further amplify "Islamic roots" in an attempt to rally the crowd. No Respect! ==> Rand Paul, who referred to Jim Crow Era tactics and side tracked bigotry by saying private ownership "should be allowed to determine who could be served in restaurants or food counters." ==> Palladino in New York, who used an "African Tribal Dance" and called it "President Obama's Inaugural Dance", and used computer generated photos of President and Michelle Obama dressed as pimp and prostitute in one of his mailings. ==>The Oregon State candidate who continues to home school with old text book calling "Negroes" as "Childlike and unintelligent"! ==>Virginia Republican Party Chairman of a comment that "His dog should be eligible for Welfare" since "He black, unemployed, lazy, can't speak English and probably has no clue who his daddy is"! These people are bigots and discriminate and do not deserve to run for office, don't you think? Vote Out The (E)Incumbent Bigoted Republican/TEA party of "NO"

October 22 2010 at 11:46 PM Report abuse -33 rate up rate down Reply


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