Emanuel tries to trip Fitzpatrick on Social Security

PHILADELPHIA — Despite the time and effort that Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) has taken to acquire credentials as one of the most independent of House Republicans, Democrats are giving him no leeway as he runs for a second term.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy campaigned together yesterday and hammered Fitzpatrick on his less-than-total opposition to Bush’s attempt to privatize Social Security.

Emanuel questioned whether voters “could rely on Fitzpatrick’s vote” not to privatize Social Security.

“You wanted a difference; now you got a difference,” Emanuel said, standing in front of a retirement home in northern Philadelphia, but not in the congressional district, with several Murphy supporters, his entourage, and a few reporters.

Emanuel has argued that even though the GOP Congress killed Bush’s signature item on his second-term domestic agenda Republicans will try again if they retain majority control. He cited favorable comments about privatization made by Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.), likely heir to the Ways and Means Committee gavel, and Bush’s chief of staff, Josh Bolten.

In addition to attacking the GOP “culture of corruption,” Emanuel has pushed challengers to hammer Republicans on Social Security. He held a retirement-security event this month with Washington state Democratic candidate Darcy Burner, and the DCCC ran advertisements on Christian radio stations in May in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky attacking GOP incumbents who supported Bush’s outline.

Democrats hope Murphy’s local roots, service as an Army captain in the Iraq war and emphasis on corruption and the need for change can topple Fitzpatrick in November’s midterm elections.

“The people in charge in Congress and the Bush administration have completely forgotten their roots,” said Murphy, 32, a Philadelphia attorney, who got married last week.

While Emanuel and Murphy campaigned and raised money at a breakfast and lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel, Fitzpatrick began his day speaking in Bristol, a small, quaint city on the Delaware River halfway between Philadelphia and Trenton, N.J. At Cesare’s restaurant, Fitzpatrick thanked parishioner’s of a local Catholic church who funded Catholic-school scholarships.

Fitzpatrick’s base was represented there by the 35 or so middle-age, mostly male business owners eating eggs, bacon and toast who called him “Mike.”

Asked about the race, Fitzpatrick brushed off Emanuel’s attacks and dismissed Murphy as an inexperienced and inarticulate candidate. But he is taking nothing for granted in a district that Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), the Democratic presidential nominee, won with 51 percent of the vote in 2004.

Fitzpatrick, a father of six, said he strongly opposed any plan to privatize Social Security since becoming a candidate for Congress in August 2004.

“I am against cutting benefits, raising the retirement age, raising payroll taxes, and I’m against privatization,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m in favor of a debate.”

He added that he supports other measures to improve ways workers can save for retirement, including developing savings accounts outside of Social Security.

Fitzpatrick said his June 30 filing with the Federal Election Commission will show that he has $1.5 million in the bank, and he said he has purchased $500,000 in television advertising already, while “the rates were low.”

Fitzpatrick, a low-key, easygoing legislator, served as a popular county commissioner for 10 years before winning his seat with 55 percent of the vote in 2004. He said he would emphasize his experience and independence.

Polling data show that GOP incumbents in Philadelphia’s suburbs could be defeated in an unfriendly Republican political environment. A Democracy Corps poll in May showed that in the district next door to Fitzpatrick’s only 51 percent of voters said they would reelect GOP Rep. Curt Weldon, a 10th-term incumbent. Weldon will face former Navy Admiral Joe Sestak, a well-financed, if inexperienced, candidate.

GOP Rep. Jim Gerlach’s slim margins in 2002 and 2004 make him vulnerable, too. He will face Lois Murphy, whom he narrowly defeated in 2004.

“There’s a high degree of voter independence and willingness to split tickets,” said G. Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.

Underscoring Pennsylvania’s importance in November, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) campaigned yesterday with Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) in Pittsburgh.

Regardless of the attention and money the DCCC has showered on Murphy, his inexperience shows. Asked if he would break with House Democratic leaders on any issues, Murphy said, “There’s nothing that comes to mind.”