Editor's Note: In the final 100 days before Election Day, CNN has been profiling one race at random each day from among the nation's top 100 House races, which we've dubbed "The CNN 100." Read the full list here. Today's featured district is:
Pennsylvania 8th – Rep. Patrick Murphy(D) is seeking a 3rd term
Primary: May 18, 2010
Location: Northern Philadelphia suburbs
Days until Election Day: 69
With just less than ten weeks left until Election Day, Democrats in the northern suburbs of Philadelphia are hoping for a repeat of 2006. That's when former Army Captain Patrick Murphy defeated one-term GOP Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick in Pennsylvania's 8th district to become the first Iraq War veteran elected to Congress.
In November, Murphy will once again face Fitzpatrick, but he'll also be facing a much tougher political environment for incumbents in both parties. In 2006, Murphy defeated Fitzpatrick by just 1,518 votes – less than one percent of total votes cast. Murphy went on to win reelection by a much healthier margin in 2008, but then he also had the advantage of running on the same ticket as President Barack Obama, who beat John McCain in Murphy's district by nearly ten percent.
Although the 8th district has supported every Democratic presidential candidate since 1992, before Murphy took over it had more than a decade-long history of Republican representation in Congress.
The 8th has the highest median income of any district in Pennsylvania, but the recession hasn't been kind to the district's residents. With Republicans sure to make Democrats' handling of the economy a central issue in all of their campaigns, this race – like many others – may come down to which candidate voters believe can help turn a struggling economy around.
Without a national race to help drive turnout, Murphy will have to hope that his 2-to-1 fundraising advantage over Fitzpatrick through the end of June will continue until Election Day.
Or maybe the poorly-funded campaign of Libertarian Party candidate Eric Wisener will pick up steam, forcing Republicans to worry about a spoiler.
If not, Republicans see this district as one of their more promising opportunities to defeat an incumbent Democrat and pick up a seat in the House. The National Republican Congressional Committee has designated Fitzpatrick as one of its "Young Guns," meaning he's sure to get a lot of attention from the national party.
In addition to serving in Congress from 2005 to 2007, Fitzpatrick is also the former commissioner of Bucks County, which makes up the bulk of the 8th district. Fitzpatrick's campaign is touting his record on environmental issues, including a former endorsement from the Sierra Club, to help position its candidate as an independent Republican.
Fitzpatrick is careful to downplay social issues in this Democratic-leaning district,
avoiding the term "conservative" on his campaign website, and instead describing himself as someone who's spent his career "fighting for the interests of local residents and listening to their concerns."
Murphy is a member of the House Democrats' Blue Dog Coalition, a group of party moderates and conservatives whose focus is primarily fiscal responsibility. But as he's done in both of his previous campaigns, Murphy continues to emphasize his military experience, positioning himself as a candidate who is strong on national security and veterans issues.
After his election, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi selected Murphy to serve on the Armed Services Committee and the Permanent Select Committee for Intelligence, while also using him as one of the chief spokesmen for the Democrats' efforts to draw down troops in Iraq. But as the general election nears, polls show that national security is taking a back seat to the economy as the most important issues to voters.
Wisener, the Libertarian candidate, is a small-businessman and former Treasury Department employee. He literally had no money in his campaign account at mid-year, so it's hard to imagine him waging a credible campaign this fall. But if history is any indicator and a 2010 Murphy-Fitzpatrick match-up is as close as it was in 2006, a relatively small number of third-party votes could make an already tight race even tighter.