In Closely Watched Pennsylvania District, Real Battle Begins for House Seat

For Murphy, it has been to link the two-term congressman to President Bush whose approval ratings in the Philadelphia suburbs hover around 30 percent, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer.

She also has targeted pocketbook issues, focusing on a plan to bring more jobs to a district that has lost most of its manufacturing base and calling for an increase in the minimum wage.

For Gerlach, the theme that appears to be emerging is part national issues, including security, and part “Why can’t we all get along?”

“The Republicans want to keep this election on one national issue, terror,” Stuart Rothenberg said on the Sept. 5 NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, “and … all about the individual candidates, why candidate X shouldn’t be sent to Washington, D.C., why Lois Murphy in Pennsylvania, or Diane Farrell, or Patricia Madrid, why that person is unacceptable.”

But Murphy has not backed down from the security and preparedness issue, saying Gerlach and Congress have not done the work to better secure the nation.

“Politicians in today’s Congress have buried their heads in the sand and failed to enact sensible, necessary measures to make us safe,” Murphy says in a statement on her Web site. “We deserve better and there is no time to lose. The time for change is now.”

On the air, Gerlach has not been shy about distancing himself from President Bush, declaring in one ad the president is “wrong” on immigration.

“When I believe President Bush is right, I’m behind him. But when I think he’s wrong, I let him know that, too,” Gerlach says in another spot.

Then in many of press releases and comments from his campaign, the operative word appears to be “hate”.

“Based on Ms. Murphy’s track record of hate and insensitivity I can only imagine what kind of offensive statement she will release on the fifth anniversary of the Sep. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States,” the Gerlach campaign said in a statement at the end of August. “As Lois Murphy’s hometown newspaper said of her, ‘despite running for the past three years, all voters know about Lois Murphy is that she hates Jim Gerlach.'”

The Gerlach-Murphy contest is one of three highly competitive contests in the suburban Philadelphia region and the national parties are readying a potentially massive air campaign for the next two months.

Both parties have reserved some $16.1 million worth of commercial time on Philadelphia’s television stations in the month leading up to the election on Nov. 7. The sum does not include advertising by advocacy groups and the candidates themselves.

The National Republican Campaign Committee has already ordered around $8.4 million in advertising time, according to the public files at the stations, to help embattled incumbents Gerlach and Reps. Curt Weldon and Michael Fitzpatrick. The Democrats are poised to pour $7.7 million in on behalf of the challengers: Joe Sestak, Patrick Murphy and Lois Murphy.

“There’s an amazing amount of money,” local political consultant Doc Sweitzer, who is advising Sestak, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “But the stakes are high, and there’s no presidential election.”

The parties must reserve time now for the fall, but the potential buy does not guarantee that the parties will actually purchase that much advertising. Nonetheless, television viewers in the Philadelphia area may be bracing for an onslaught of advertising from the campaigns and third parties looking to influence the outcome of three of the closest races in the nation.