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GOP Nor’easter

Republicans storm Pennsylvania and beyond.

Sep 27, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 02 • By FRED BARNES
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But Pennsylvania is the biggest potential prize. Cook lists 5 seats held by Democrats as tossups and another as “leans D.” The election model of analyst Nate Silver gives Republicans a better than 50 percent chance of winning 6 Democratic seats. This includes a 69 percent chance of taking the Scranton seat represented since 1984 by Democratic warhorse Paul Kanjorski. Fitzpatrick has a 54 percent chance of ousting Murphy, according to Silver.

Pennsylvania has trended Democratic since 2000, but it has reacted more negatively to Obama and his agenda than the rest of the Northeast. The president’s approval is under water in Pennsylvania (51 percent negative to 47 percent positive in the Rasmussen poll). Repeal of his health care bill is favored by 56 percent to 38 percent.

The collapse of support for Obama is duplicated in Pennsylvania’s 8th District, which takes in all of Bucks County and a small chunk of northeast Philadelphia. The county, just north of Philadelphia, is urban in the south, suburban in the middle, and rural in the north. Fitzpatrick grew up in Levit-town, the gigantic postwar development of modestly priced houses, and still lives there.

In private polling, Obama’s approval in the district has flipped from 55 percent to 42 percent positive a year ago to 53 percent to 43 percent negative now. Last month, a private survey gave Fitzpatrick a 48 percent to 41 percent lead over Murphy.

Fitzpatrick is hardly coasting. As the incumbent, Murphy will raise and spend more, just as Fitzpatrick did in 2006 when he was running for reelection. Fitzpatrick has already raised more than $1 million and figures he needs $1 million more to run an effective campaign. “In this atmosphere, we’re not going to have to spend as much as the incumbent,” Fitzpatrick says.

In 2010, money matters less than issues, and that’s where Fitzpatrick—and Republicans in much of the Northeast—has an advantage. “Congressman Murphy would like to make [the election] about social issues,” Fitzpatrick, a pro-life Catholic, says. “But all the other issues have been trumped by the economy.”

Murphy voted for the liberal trinity of unpopular measures—economic stimulus, cap and trade, and health care. “We’re going to make him defend everything,” Fitzpatrick says. His plan to revive the economy and create jobs is standard Republican fare: “smaller, more efficient government, less spending, lower taxes, and setting the table for small businesses and manufacturers.”

The importance of Fitzpatrick’s candidacy is a given among Republican strategists, though he’s gotten little outside help so far. “It’d be difficult to get a majority without winning this district,” he says. Winning is hardly certain. But a betting man would back Fitzpatrick.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.

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