But experts say the Republican primary in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District won’t be decided on any such grand plan. The race favors Murphy for the usual reasons: name recognition, a conservative voting record in line with a moderate electorate and lots more money.
With the April 24 primary less than a week away, Murphy has raised more than $1.6 million through April 4, according to Federal Election Commission records. Even with the promise of funding from the national political action committee Campaign for Primary Accountability, Feinberg had raised less than $122,000 for the same period. To find their totals and the other Pennsylvania congressional candidates, click here.
All of this was politics as usual, said Feinberg, 28. The former policy aide to conservative U.S. Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., moved his family back to this western Pennsylvania district just south of Pittsburgh from Washington, D.C., to run on ideas.
“People told me run against his record, don’t throw anything out there for them to use against you,” Feinberg said in a recent phone interview. “There’s no courage in that. People want to know, ‘What’s your plan?’ My plan is to drastically limit government, give people their freedom back so they can lead us back to unprecedented prosperity.”
In his position paper, Turning the Lights Back On, Feinberg calls for Congress to eliminate 233 federal programs. Feinberg wants to shutter the federal Environmental Protection Agency. “I’d trade that for all of the jobs killed by their regulations,” he said.
Murphy, 59, who won re-election in 2010 with more than 67 percent of the vote, has used Feinberg’s hard line both to burnish his conservative credentials and pillory what he has characterized as conservative extremism.
“Congressman Murphy voted against (the federal Patient Protection and Health Care Act) and has voted to repeal and dismantle it over 24 times,” his campaign manager, James Genovese, wrote in response to a question about votes Murphy considered significant. “He has also voted for Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, and the Energy Policy Act of 2005 because it created thousands of local jobs here in the nuclear industry.”
The congressman has spoken out against President Barack Obama’s energy policies, which he says have blunted what could be a natural gas bonanza in the Marcellus shale of southwestern Pennsylvania.
Murphy also touts those votes that brought federal aid to the district through the federal Healthy Hospitals Act and protecting the 911th Airlift Wing and the 171st Air Refueling Wing in the district threatened by the Base Realignment and Closure plan in 2005.
This redirecting of tax money to the district sounds to Feinberg like earmarking, something Murphy and most U.S. House Republicans voted to stop taking in 2010 and something Feinberg said he would never do.
Murphy also supported the stimulus bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and Cash For Clunkers.
“Congressman Murphy has voted for every earmark you can imagine,” Feinberg said. “He supports every appropriations bill, and when it comes to reductions in spending for things like agriculture and transportation, he votes against it.”
Genovese deflected Feinberg’s portrayal of Murphy as a big government Republican, suggesting outside conservative advocacy groups, like FreedomWorks, have helped Feinberg shape that message.
“There is no interest group out of Washington, D.C., that can measure the unique and critical issues of importance to the people of the 18th district,” Genovese wrote.
Feinberg also has received much of his funding from the Campaign For Primary Accountability, co-founded by conservative Houston entrepreneur Leo Linbeck III to help defeat Democratic and Republican incumbents.
The PAC thought Feinberg was a good bet, and Feinberg is grateful for anything that will cut into the considerable fundraising advantage enjoyed by Murphy.
“We are confident,” Genovese wrote, “that the voters in Southwestern Pennsylvania will reject the misinformed and misleading negative attacks funded by out-of-state billionaires who do not care about the families, businesses, schools, or future of the communities Congressman Murphy serves each day.”
For Murphy the choice for voters couldn’t be clearer, and their double-digit margins for Murphy in the past five general elections confirm it.
The 18th District, Feinberg said, is far more conservative than the experts think. Voters in a primary finally have a choice, one of lavish government spending and one of fiscal restraint.
“I think it all comes back to the Constitution,” Feinberg said, “and the responsibility of a U.S. representative to defend the Constitution.”