The non-stop campaign

042707murphy.jpgRep. Patrick Murphy hasn’t let the fact that he was elected to Congress in November put a stop to his campaigning.

Nearly every Monday since he took office in January, the 33-year-old freshman Democrat and Iraq war veteran has headed out to suburban Philadelphia train stations at dawn to greet voters. After that, he gets into his car for the three-hour drive to Capitol Hill.

“You don’t win until you win re-election,” Murphy said one recent morning as he introduced himself to bleary-eyed commuters, many of whom congratulated him on his election victory. “The first one’s to get your foot in the door.”

Campaign season has already ramped up for many House seats, even though the 2008 election is still more than a year away.

Some in this year’s crop of congressional freshmen are finding they must be constant campaigners, with growing pressure to raise money, the threat of a rematch from a defeated incumbent and the Democrat-Republican tug-of-war for political dominance in Congress.

Murphy’s opponent last fall, former Republican Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, has not ruled out a challenge. Former Republican Rep. Melissa Hart, who also was ousted in the 2006 election, is still weighing her options in western Pennsylvania.

In Kansas and New Hampshire, Republicans Jim Ryan and Jeb Bradley, both rejected by voters in November, are already actively campaigning.

“I’m Congressman Jim Ryan,” Ryan told an anti-abortion rally in January, despite the fact that his Democratic opponent, Nancy Boyda, had already been sworn in.

Rep. Tom Cole, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the early campaigning for 2008 is partly due to what he calls the “whither-America” factor — meaning, there’s no incumbent president or vice president seeking office and control of the House and Senate is in play while the nation confronts big issues like the Iraq war.

“I think that breeds more rapid political activity than you normally would have,” Cole said.

For incumbents, particularly freshmen who haven’t had as much time to develop name recognition in their home districts, that means added pressure to raise enough money to elevate their profiles and deal with potential challengers. That’s particularly true in expensive media markets like the Philadelphia suburbs, where Murphy defeated Fitzpatrick by only about 1,500 votes.

It all puts Murphy in a posture where he’s spending less time with his wife and baby, and more time in places like the Cornwells Heights train station, where he tells voters to give him a call if they need help.

The effort impressed commuter Fred Shmauk, 52, of Langhorne, Pa., who said he’s seen Murphy at the train station twice.

While it’s still too early to commit his vote to Murphy in 2008, Shmauk said, “I want to see if he can do something.”

Recognizing both the vulnerabilities of the freshmen class and the freshness they brought to Washington as part of a new class, party leaders have put them out front on key issues. Murphy, along with Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz, another freshman military veteran, have helped lead the fight to withdraw troops from Iraq.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put a link on its Web site targeting six “Republican reruns” that press reports have indicated could be back in the race. Among them is former Republican Rep. Mike Sodrel in Indiana, who nearly beat Rep. Baron Hill in 2002, beat Hill in 2004, then lost to him in 2006.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who chairs the Democrats’ campaign committee, said Republican challengers will have their work cut out for them.

“If the last election sent one clear message, it was people were tired, they were sick and tired of the Republican Congress and where they’d taken the country,” he said.

The Republicans, who lost control of the House for the first time in 12 years, are already trying to shape their message for 2008 — telling voters that Democrats have quickly shown they are not agents of change. They’ve sent out 1 million e-mails to 11 congressional districts to tell what they say is “The Real Democrat Story.”

“Republicans learned our lesson on pork-barrel politics — learned it the hard way,” House Minority Leader John Boehner, said in an op-ed printed April 16 in the National Review. “Sadly, it appears the Democrats who now control Congress haven’t learned from our mistakes, and never really intended to.”

So the campaign — and the quest for money — continues for Patrick Murphy and others.

“It’s hard to go back to people you were asking only a few months ago,” Murphy said. “It’s a necessary evil.”–KIMBERLY HEFLING and PATRICK WALTERS

Rep. Patrick Murphy hasn’t let the fact that he was elected to Congress in November put a stop to his campaigning.

Nearly every Monday since he took office in January, the 33-year-old freshman Democrat and Iraq war veteran has headed out to suburban Philadelphia train stations at dawn to greet voters. After that, he gets into his car for the three-hour drive to Capitol Hill.

“You don’t win until you win re-election,” Murphy said one recent morning as he introduced himself to bleary-eyed commuters, many of whom congratulated him on his election victory. “The first one’s to get your foot in the door.”

Campaign season has already ramped up for many House seats, even though the 2008 election is still more than a year away.

Some in this year’s crop of congressional freshmen are finding they must be constant campaigners, with growing pressure to raise money, the threat of a rematch from a defeated incumbent and the Democrat-Republican tug-of-war for political dominance in Congress.

Murphy’s opponent last fall, former Republican Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, has not ruled out a challenge. Former Republican Rep. Melissa Hart, who also was ousted in the 2006 election, is still weighing her options in western Pennsylvania.

In Kansas and New Hampshire, Republicans Jim Ryan and Jeb Bradley, both rejected by voters in November, are already actively campaigning.

“I’m Congressman Jim Ryan,” Ryan told an anti-abortion rally in January, despite the fact that his Democratic opponent, Nancy Boyda, had already been sworn in.

Rep. Tom Cole, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the early campaigning for 2008 is partly due to what he calls the “whither-America” factor — meaning, there’s no incumbent president or vice president seeking office and control of the House and Senate is in play while the nation confronts big issues like the Iraq war.

“I think that breeds more rapid political activity than you normally would have,” Cole said.

For incumbents, particularly freshmen who haven’t had as much time to develop name recognition in their home districts, that means added pressure to raise enough money to elevate their profiles and deal with potential challengers. That’s particularly true in expensive media markets like the Philadelphia suburbs, where Murphy defeated Fitzpatrick by only about 1,500 votes.

It all puts Murphy in a posture where he’s spending less time with his wife and baby, and more time in places like the Cornwells Heights train station, where he tells voters to give him a call if they need help.

The effort impressed commuter Fred Shmauk, 52, of Langhorne, Pa., who said he’s seen Murphy at the train station twice.

While it’s still too early to commit his vote to Murphy in 2008, Shmauk said, “I want to see if he can do something.”

Recognizing both the vulnerabilities of the freshmen class and the freshness they brought to Washington as part of a new class, party leaders have put them out front on key issues. Murphy, along with Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz, another freshman military veteran, have helped lead the fight to withdraw troops from Iraq.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put a link on its Web site targeting six “Republican reruns” that press reports have indicated could be back in the race. Among them is former Republican Rep. Mike Sodrel in Indiana, who nearly beat Rep. Baron Hill in 2002, beat Hill in 2004, then lost to him in 2006.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who chairs the Democrats’ campaign committee, said Republican challengers will have their work cut out for them.

“If the last election sent one clear message, it was people were tired, they were sick and tired of the Republican Congress and where they’d taken the country,” he said.

The Republicans, who lost control of the House for the first time in 12 years, are already trying to shape their message for 2008 — telling voters that Democrats have quickly shown they are not agents of change. They’ve sent out 1 million e-mails to 11 congressional districts to tell what they say is “The Real Democrat Story.”

“Republicans learned our lesson on pork-barrel politics — learned it the hard way,” House Minority Leader John Boehner, said in an op-ed printed April 16 in the National Review. “Sadly, it appears the Democrats who now control Congress haven’t learned from our mistakes, and never really intended to.”

So the campaign — and the quest for money — continues for Patrick Murphy and others.

“It’s hard to go back to people you were asking only a few months ago,” Murphy said. “It’s a necessary evil.”

–KIMBERLY HEFLING and PATRICK WALTERS

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Hefling reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Sam Hananel and Ben Evans in Washington contributed to this report.

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On the Net:

National Republican Congressional Committee: http://www.nrcc.org/

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee: http://www.dccc.org

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press

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