Will anti-incumbency fervor hit Pittsburgh's South Hills? Tim Murphy's Republican challenger Evan Feinberg spent this afternoon -- as he does almost every day -- in the 18th congressional district trying to stoke the fire.
Feinberg, joined by his wife Sarah, a Marine Corps vet, and 10-month-old son Luke (above), did one last round of door-knocking today in his old neighborhood in Peters before shutting things down for the Easter weekend. (The devout Christian had a religious awakening at age 18 while a freshman at the University of Michigan, converted from Judaism and transferred to Grove City College -- "the faith and freedom college," as he called it.)
The former staffer for the Heritage Foundation and for U.S. Senators Tom Coburn and Rand Paul had an easy way around the tidy neighborhood of two-story homes. "We love the Heritage Foundation," said one of Feinberg's former next-door neighbors, unbidden, after a talk about the time his older sister got stuck on a swingset. The 18th District was ahead of the GOP curve in the 2004 primary, voting for Pat Toomey over Arlen Specter, repeated its vote for Toomey six years later, and supported the GOP for president in 2000, 2004 and 2008. So Feinberg's pitch standing outside screen doors this primary season is not about Obama, but rather his fellow Republican Murphy, who the challenger says is too moderate for the dependably red district, and is more concerned with winning a sixth term than sticking to conservative principles on low government spending and taxes.
The 28 year old quoted Coburn: "The biggest problem in Washington is politicians who put their next election before the next generation."
His message has attracted $200,000 in outside advertising support from the anti-incumbent group Campaign For Primary Accountability (which is also taking on Democratic incumbent Tim Holden) and an endorsement from the grassroots tea party group FreedomWorks. Pre-primary finance reports due next week will surely show a giant financial advantage for Murphy however, and the Upper St. Clair incumbent is already on air with a conservative-friendly ad attacking Obamacare. He has not yet faced off publicly against Feinberg, but at his campaign kickoff warned Republicans against eating their own: "There's a lot of people in this country who are frustrated. We're all frustrated. Some are very angry. What we cannot do is take out that anger out on ourselves," Murphy said Jan. 26. ". . . We're going to have to work together and not be divisive."
Feinberg says he'll too be on TV sometime before the April 24 primary, and has an on-message retort to Murphy's financial advantage: "With 61% of his earmarks going directly to campaign contributors, it's easy to raise that kind of money," he said, referring to this OpenSecrets study of 2010 House spending.
There are serious questions about whether someone as far right as Feinberg -- who would cut scads of federal departments, adopt a flat tax and even gold and silver currency -- could prevail in the general election, and Democrats are gleefully watching Murphy's primary test unfurl. (Washington County commissioner Larry Maggi, a pro-gun/anti-health care reform Democrat, is unopposed for his party's nod.) That's where Feinberg points to the GOP voting statistics, saying he's unconcerned.
He gave up his job with Rand Paul analyzing health care to move back to the district and take on Murphy full-time, attacking the incumbent door-to-door with evangelic zeal and walking off 15 pounds in the process. It's an uphill battle, particularly without Murphy's financial cover, but he says he has no second thoughts.
"I was very happy being a policy staffer moving the ball forward on Medicare reform," he said walking up another set of steps. "But the long and short of it is, the biggest problem right now is there are plenty of us willing to be courageous and bold, but there are too many Republicans working against what conservative Republicans are trying to accomplish."
Photo: McNulty iPhone