BY PAM MUELLER
More than 30 HLS and KSG students turned out last Thursday to meet with Patrick Murphy, the Democratic candidate in one of this campaign season’s most hotly contested Congressional races. Murphy’s nomination in Pennsylvania’s 8th district has excited his party’s leaders, who have targeted this race both with financial support and with Democratic star power, including Mark Warner, Barack Obama, and the Clintons. Murphy is a political neophyte, but his background is built for broad voter appeal: he is an Iraq war veteran, a former West Point professor, and a former criminal prosecutor.
The war in Iraq was a catalyst for Murphy’s political involvement. In 2000, he voted for President Bush, believing him to be a compassionate conservative who would strengthen the military. Today he says, “I was wrong.” He believes that by supporting the Bush administration’s foreign policy, “we are losing credibility that our forefathers earned.”
In Iraq, he observed a population essentially the same size as his childhood hometown of Philadelphia being guarded by a force only half as numerous as the Philadelphia Police Department. As a “witness to foreign policy,” Murphy was dismayed about many aspects of the war, including the lack of manpower, the cuts in combat pay, and the lack of proper armor for vehicles. Murphy served as a paratrooper with the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, and earned the Bronze Star for his service.
Upon returning from his tour in Iraq, Murphy headed up Pennsylvania’s Veterans for Kerry effort, and was upset at the “disrespectful and unpatriotic” claims made by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth during that campaign. In 2005, Murphy took his involvement further and decided to challenge one-term incumbent Mike Fitzpatrick, who, in Murphy’s words, is “cut from the same cloth as Rick Santorum.”
In addition to being a critical part of his background, the military is prominent in Murphy’s platform. In response to problems he observed in Iraq, Murphy has proposed a new GI Bill of Rights, focused on manpower, equipment, fair pay and healthcare for those who serve our country.
His platform also calls for a redeployment of nearly all troops currently in Iraq to the homefront and to Afghanistan, while keeping a strike force of elite troops in the area to continue to train the Iraqi forces and prevent Iranian aggression. This plan for Iraq sparked respectful dissent and triggered a poignant discussion between Murphy and other veterans in attendance, at least two of whom also recently returned from Iraq.
While his current polling numbers are good, Murphy believes that he is “in the fight of [his] life” and needs every asset he has to combat his well-funded opponent, who has raised more PAC money than any other first-term congressman. Murphy is raising his money from individuals rather than PACs, and this focus on the individual means he has a strong belief in the power of the volunteer. He invited all in attendance to come help him in his fight; since “you only need to show up for the final in law school,” we should “take a week, two weeks, 60 days” and join him in Pennsylvania.
Given the response of some of the individuals present, he may have some takers. 1L Rei Onishi thought that Murphy was an “excellent candidate with lots of energy” and appreciated hearing about his “very personal experiences in Iraq.” KSG student James Katz was even more effusive, explaining that it was “critical for Democrats to be able to speak about national security with clarity and poise, and Murphy is a young, vibrant candidate who can do that.” Katz went on to say that he was “deeply excited about [Murphy’s] candidacy” and looks forward to his years in Congress.