Rivals in Pennsylvania's 18th District jog in quiet congressional race

Jeremy Boren
| Monday, Oct. 8, 2012

The congressional race between U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy and Washington County Commissioner Larry Maggi lives mainly on TV.

Scant evidence of it appears on streets and in shop windows of Washington, McMurray and other population centers in the 18th District.

One storefront on Washington's Main Street displays a “Maggi for Congress” sign, though none is planted in Maggi's yard.

Murphy's campaign splits office space with the Peters Township Republican Committee in a strip mall adorned with other Republican candidates' signs on Washington Road. Snapshots on Murphy's website from the campaign trail date to his 2010 race.

“I saw Larry's new commercial, but other than that, there's not much happening with it,” said Joseph DiSarro, a political science professor at Washington & Jefferson College. “At this point, it's Murphy's race to lose.”

Murphy, 60, of Upper St. Clair, and Maggi, 62, of Buffalo live 20 miles apart but shared a stage only once so far, during a forum that included candidates from another race. They've scheduled no debates, a strategy that incumbents generally prefer lest they make a mistake late in a campaign that ruins their advantage.

Maggi's latest ad portrays a line of senior citizens filing into a dreary bank labeled “Government” and dumping packets of cash on the counter, ostensibly to pay for higher health care costs that Maggi believes will result from vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's alternate budget plan, which Murphy supports.

“I just don't think Congressman Murphy is in touch with Southwestern Pennsylvania,” said Maggi, a Democrat. “He's part of the gridlock in Congress. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is getting done, and I'm not just blaming the Republicans. I'm blaming the Democrats, too. It's all so partisan.”

Murphy breezed to victories against Democrats since ascending from the state Senate to Congress in 2003. In May, he trounced his first Republican primary opponent since taking office by 26 percentage points. Internal polling shows Murphy leading; he has worked to raise money by holding private fundraisers.

As of June 30, Murphy's campaign reported raising $1.9 million and spending $1.3 million. Maggi raised $500,000 and spent $91,440.

Murphy hasn't attacked Maggi on TV, but he did so in an interview.

“Larry Maggi's record is one of increasing spending and taxes, and that is what he wants to bring to Washington, D.C., where 42 percent of our GDP is already government spending,” Murphy said.

Murphy noted that Maggi voted to raise property taxes in 2004, when he became a commissioner, and in 2009. The rate stands at 24.9 mills, up from 17.5 mills in 2004.

Carl Holtzman, 83, of Irwin said he's leaning toward voting for Murphy because he doesn't know much about Maggi and believes the government must cut spending, particularly on foreign aid.

“I don't think Obamacare is needed. I want someone in office who believes that,” Holtzman said.

Murphy's campaign touts his effort to keep the 9llth Airlift Wing in Moon open, the Pennsylvania “patient bill of rights” he authored as a state senator in the late 1990s and a bill he wrote in 2011, dubbed the Social Security and Medicare Protection Act. It sought to prevent surpluses in the Social Security and Medicare hospital insurance trust funds from being spent elsewhere; the bill failed to come to the floor for a vote.

Murphy wants to repeal Obama's signature health care law and undo Environmental Protection Agency regulations that he believes stifle the coal and natural gas industries.

Maggi has said his base of support in Washington County is strong. In his 2011 re-election to the Board of Commissioners, he received 30 percent of the vote in a race with two Republicans and a Democrat.

“I've been the top vote-getter for five elections in Washington County,” Maggi said.

Maggi, a former state police trooper, said Murphy, a psychologist, has become a career politician who is beholden to political action committees and others that kept him in office. Maggi vows that, if elected, he would seek to serve four, two-year terms.

He criticized Murphy for voting twice in favor of Ryan's budget proposal, which Maggi believes would ruin Medicare and drive up costs for seniors in five to 10 years.

The candidates align on two social issues: both oppose abortion rights and want to preserve the rights of gun owners.

Maggi declined to say which candidate he backs for president. Murphy said he will vote for Republican Mitt Romney.

Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or jboren@tribweb.com.

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