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A Republican Hits Back on Iraq

As loyal Fix readers know, we spend most of our time these days watching campaign ads from around the country -- looking for commercials that are potential game-changers.

Over the weekend, we came across an ad being run by Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R) against Iraq war veteran Patrick Murphy (D) in Pennsylvania's 8th district.

For months Republicans have been trying to find a way to talk about the war in Iraq in a way that acknowledges the American public's frustration with the conflict while avoiding calls for a timetable for withdrawal. Put in stark rhetorical terms, Republican incuments are trying to talk a fine line between "cut and run" and "stay the course."

Fitzpatrick's new commercial, which was created by media consultant Chris Mottola, turns the tables on the issue in a powerful way. It shows footage from Murphy's appearance on "Hardball with Chris Matthews" in which he repeatedly dodges Matthews' question on whether he would have supported the war in Iraq. "It's a hard call," Murphy says. Further prompted for an answer, Murphy said: "It's hard to say."

"Tough times demand honest leaders," says the ad's narrator. "Not Pat Murphy."

Much of Murphy's candidacy is based on the idea that as someone who has fought in Iraq he brings a special expertise and perspective on the war. This commercial effectively undermines that argument -- painting Murphy as indecisive on the most important issue in the election for voters.

(A quick sidenote: Murphy's inability to articulate a position on whether or not he would have supported the war reminded us of a similar situation during the 2004 presidential race when retired Gen. Wesley Clark dismantled the justification for his candidacy on its first day by saying he "probably" would have supported the use of force resolution against Iraq.)

To date Murphy has run a surprisingly strong challenge to the freshman Fitzpatrick. The 8th district, which takes in the northern and western suburbs of Philadelphia, should be competitive between the two parties. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry won it by a 51 percent to 48 percent margin in 2004 and then Vice President Al Gore carried with by five points in 2000.

It will take a week or so (or maybe more) to decide whether Fitzpatrick's ad cuts through the clutter. It may be slightly too subtle to make a real impact as voters living in the Philadelphia media market are overwhelmed at the moment by ads for the Senate and governor's races as well as three House contests -- the 6th, 7th and 8th.

We're guessing the ad will move some numbers although it isn't likely to be decisive in the contest. Remember that Democrats have largely skated by this election without a unified approach on how best to handle the situation in Iraq heading forward. No single party position has emerged and the majority of party strategists insist one is not necessary. This Fitzpatrick ad will test that theory.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 16, 2006; 3:10 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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