Murphy, Fitzpatrick squaring off in Bucks again

Incumbent Rep. Patrick Murphy (left) and former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick appeared together on Comcast's "Voice of Reason."
Incumbent Rep. Patrick Murphy (left) and former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick appeared together on Comcast's "Voice of Reason."
Posted: September 10, 2010

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy has incumbency, a nearly 3-to-1 fundraising advantage and a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee working in his favor. It doesn't hurt that he's a charismatic Iraq War veteran, either.

But virtually everything else is stacked against him.

The 36-year-old Democrat from Bristol is running for a third term in a hazardous political environment against Republican Mike Fitzpatrick, an aggressive campaigner whom Murphy unseated in the 2006 congressional election by less than 1 percentage point.

During his political hiatus, Fitzpatrick, 47, successfully battled colon cancer. Now, he wants his old job back, and GOP operatives in Washington think that he has a shot at reclaiming it.

Welcome to Bucks County's 8th Congressional District race, a/k/a "The Rematch."

It's a race that some Republicans believe could be a national bellwether. They're targeting Murphy despite the fact that Democrats have a voter-registration edge in his district and President Obama won there by 9 points in 2008.

"The race has taken on new importance," said Franklin & Marshall College pollster G. Terry Madonna. "It now has to be regarded as competitive, and I think we're going to see a lot more national interest than before."

The candidates met Wednesday at the Comcast Network's studio in Philadelphia for the taping of their first debate. It will air at 9:30 p.m. Sunday on Larry Kane's "Voice of Reason."

They clashed over the economy, with Fitzpatrick repeatedly attacking Murphy for supporting Obama's $787 billion stimulus package, bailout bills and increased health-care spending.

"I have six children and I can't sit back any longer and watch what's happening to our country - doubling the unemployment rate, doubling the national debt," Fitzpatrick said, adding, "It's immoral what we're doing to future generations."

Murphy said that he wished he "didn't have to" vote for the stimulus but that the emergency spending was required to clean up the Bush administration's "mess" and stanch rapid job loss.

"Sometimes I feel like the cleanup crew after an Eagles game," said Murphy, who blasted Fitzpatrick for supporting free-trade policies that sent U.S. jobs to Central America.

Addressing the Bush-era tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of this year, Murphy said he backs middle-class cuts, but opposes extending them for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, or "the Paris Hiltons of the world."

"We can't just reheat these Bush economic policies," Murphy said. "They're disastrous."

Fitzpatrick, who is campaigning as a small-government fiscal conservative, supports the extension of all the tax cuts. Better yet, he said, make them permanent: "In the middle of a recession is no time to increase taxes."

Asked after the debate how he'll survive an election that some pundits say could cost Democrats control of the House, Murphy said he plans to stay focused on job creation.

But with the Philadelphia suburbs trending Democratic, Murphy also sought to exploit Fitzpatrick's socially conservative positions, labeling him an "extreme" pro-lifer who would oppose abortion even in cases of rape or incest.

"That's not like a moderate Republican from Bucks County. That's like an Alabama Republican," Murphy said. (The Fitzpatrick campaign said yesterday that he would not vote to prohibit abortions in those situations, or if the life of a mother was in danger).

A recent poll conducted for the Fitzpatrick campaign by Public Opinion Strategies gave Fitzpatrick a 48-41 lead over Murphy. "Now that the political winds have shifted, Murphy is seeing this recently friendly district slip away," GOP pollster Neil Newhouse said in the accompanying memo.

Murphy had $1.78 million cash on hand through June, the close of the last fundraising cycle, compared with Fitzpatrick's $660,- 000. And the Democrat could likely raise much more, in part because he sits on the Appropriations Committee, which controls federal spending.

But Fitzpatrick can expect some help from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which this week reserved TV ad time for the race. The district, which also covers small sections of Northeast Philadelphia and Montgomery County, was previously considered a relatively safe Democratic district.

Even Murphy's own polling shows a tight race. A mid-August Global Strategy Group survey commissioned by the Murphy campaign gave Murphy a 47-43 lead - within the margin of error and below 50 percent.

Not exactly safe.

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