- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2006

In a letter to supporters titled “America Needs a Better, Smarter Plan in Iraq,” first-term Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick criticizes what he calls President Bush’s “extreme” policy in Iraq.

In the letter, the Pennsylvania Republican also decries the “cut-and-run” stance of his Democratic opponent, Patrick Murphy, an Iraq war veteran. The race shows the difficulty facing Republicans running for re-election this year in parts of the country where the war has become deeply unpopular.

The cover of Mr. Fitzpatrick’s mailing reads, “Congressman Fitzpatrick says NO to both extremes: No to President Bush’s ‘stay-the-course’ strategy … and no to Patrick Murphy’s ‘cut-and-run’ approach.”

“It’s interesting if you look at the memo — he’s criticizing just about every plan that’s out there on the table, but he doesn’t offer his own plan,” said Murphy campaign spokesman Dan DeRosa. The Fitzpatrick campaign declined repeated requests from The Washington Times to outline its position on the Iraq war.

Pennsylvania’s 8th District has become competitive territory for Democrats on a national level in recent years, with voters supporting every Democratic presidential nominee since 1992. However, voters in the district with a population of 650,000 also have consistently elected Republicans to represent them during that time.

In 2004, Mr. Fitzpatrick was elected with 55 percent of the vote, while in the presidential race, Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, carried the district with 51 percent of the vote to Mr. Bush’s 48 percent.

Mr. Fitzpatrick previously expressed his support for the war in Iraq.

When discussing his most recent trip to Iraq on his Web site, Mr. Fitzpatrick writes: “My time with the troops left an indelible impression of pride in the tremendous dedication and commitment our service men and women display on a daily basis protecting our national security and improving the lives of long repressed Iraqis. As a Member of Congress, I will continue to do everything in my power to support their efforts.”

Mr. Murphy is a Bronze Star winner who served with the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. In December, he proposed a 12-month redeployment of troops from Iraq.

Mr. Murphy’s plan, similar to that of fellow Pennsylvania Democrat Rep. John P. Murtha, would leave a rapid-response strike force of troops in Kuwait that could respond to “security emergencies” in Iraq.

An internal poll conducted by the Murphy campaign shows him trailing Mr. Fitzpatrick by six percentage points. Polling by the campaign in March showed Mr. Fitzpatrick with a 14-point lead.

“Pennsylvania’s 8th District has tightened dramatically,” the poll’s attached memo reads, “and the political environment in the district favors a Democrat.”

The Murphy campaign has received support from high-profile Democrats, including Mr. Kerry, Mr. Murtha and Pennsylvania Democrat Gov. Edward G. Rendell.