In Waning Days, Pa. 6th District Slugfest Too Close to Call

Gerlach, who narrowly defeated Murphy two years ago by some 7,000 votes, has been labeled one of the most vulnerable incumbents in an anti-incumbent year since the campaign began.

Despite being targeted from the outset, friends and colleagues said it is nothing new from the lawyer and moderate Republican.

“He is a bulldog,” longtime friend and college chum, U.S. District Judge John Jones told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “He doesn’t back down from a fight.”

Gerlach has shown his combativeness during the Iraq debates, issuing a press release just this week praising President Bush for moving toward the two-term congressman’s position on Iraq.

“No one wants to be in Iraq any longer than necessary, but we need victory,” Gerlach said Oct. 25.

“While we cannot cut and run, we have not been proactive enough as a Congress in establishing what victory means and how best to achieve it. … I’ve been saying for months — that ‘stay the course’ isn’t a strategy for victory in Iraq,” Gerlach added, echoing President Bush’s well-worn phrase for his Iraq policy up until this week.

For Murphy’s part, the attorney scored several critical newspaper endorsements in the waning days of the campaign, a potentially key development in this closely fought contest.

In an editorial backing Murphy, the Philadelphia Inquire called her “smart and sensible; she hits the notes of a New Democrat in the Clinton-Rendell vein. She wants Congress finally to exercise oversight on the Bush administration and to demand change on the Iraq war. In sum, she wants to restore the checks and balances so absent recently in Washington.”

Perhaps even more critical was the endorsement of the Allentown Morning Call which wrote, “Two years ago, we recommended the candidacy of Mr. Gerlach, a congressional freshman who previously had an impressive record as a state representative. But this time, after watching the incumbent’s performance in office for two more years, we must give the edge to Mrs. Murphy, a Harvard Law School graduate who worked for the U.S. Justice Department.”

Gerlach has lined up his own supporters, garnering the endorsements of both the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Education Association’s Fund for Children and Public Education.

In their final debate, the two kept the tone civil, but cited each others’ bitter campaign advertising and harsh accusations made in mailings to voters.

“Hate for the president, hate for Republicans and hate for House leadership,” Gerlach said in his opening statement. “Hate is an emotion. It’s not a policy.”

The accusation of hate has been a common theme in Gerlach’s campaign and prompted Murphy to send her opponent flowers earlier in October.

“Over the past few months you’ve seemed somewhat preoccupied with what I think of you. I just wanted you to know that I think you’re probably a nice guy,” the note included quipped. “It’s just that I can’t figure out why, if you claim to be a fiscal conservative, you voted to increase the debt limit by nearly $2.5 trillion and voted in favor of a $223 million Bridge to Nowhere. That seems pretty wasteful.”

Despite their back and forth, this is a campaign that may be decided by neither of them, but by their friends. The national parties, advocacy groups and political action committees have poured more than $6.1 million into advertising.