The 33-year-old Murphy told the Irish Echo during the campaign that he had no doubt that he would win. In the end he did prevail, though by the narrowest of margins — 0.6 percent or 1,521 out of the 249,813 valid votes cast.
At the outset, after he’d won the May Democratic primary in Pennsylvania’s Eighth District, army veteran Murphy faced a formidable task. His opponent, one-term incumbent Mike Fitzpatrick, a father of six children, had deep roots in Bucks County, which covers most of the Eighth District, and had been county commissioner for 10 years.
Furthermore, the sitting congressman wasn’t under indictment or linked to any financial scandal, and could point to a voting record that was sufficiently independent to win endorsements from environmentalist groups. His legislative record additionally included measures aimed at protecting children from online predators.
The popular 43-year-old Republican also had a significant advantage in cash raised — $2.2 million to Murphy’s $1.6 million. It seemed generally that Fitzpatrick was one incumbent who could turn back the tide against the Bush Administration.
“Fitzpatrick is the only Republican I voted for,” Julie Klein, a 28-year-old cook, told the Inquirer on Election Day. “He got my vote because of the Sierra Club endorsement.”
Barbara McNulty, 46, was also strongly motivated to vote for the Republican, whom she described as “sincere, honest, hardworking and a family man.”
For his part, Murphy, who served as a captain in the 82nd Airborne Div. in Baghdad in 2003-4 and won the Bronze Star, made the Iraq War a central issue, echoing Rep. Jack Murtha’s call for a redeployment of troops in the region.
“Over the course of the campaign, Murphy evolved into a strong candidate,” commented Inquirer political reporter Christine Schiavo. “He paid attention to seniors concerned about gaps in their health care and to physicians demanding tort reform.”
One issue that threw the candidates’ differences into sharp relief was stem cell research, with the challenger targeting Fitzpatrick’s support for the administration’s conservative line.
Murphy’s more socially liberal philosophy gave him an edge in what is in many respects a typical Northeastern suburban district. And his party had long decided to replicate the Republicans’ impressive grassroots machine in Bucks County. In the end, Fitzpatrick edged the Philadelphian Murphy by just 1,000 votes in the county, where 93 percent of the electorate lives. But the challenger won by more than twice that amount in the pockets of Northeastern Philadelphia and Montgomery County that are included in the Eight District.
Murphy’s workers knocked on 160,000 doors on the Election Day itself, and the winner himself credited his victory to an old-fashioned door-to-door campaign.
“I congratulated him [Murphy] on a hard-fought campaign,” Fitzpatrick told reporters outside his Levittown home after he conceded. “I talked to him about what an honor it has been for me to represent this community for 12 years. I asked that he represent it with the same care and compassion that I have. And I believe he will.”
Murphy, who married fellow lawyer Jennifer Safford on June 17, will be sworn in as a new congressman on Jan. 3.