Elections 2010: In Pa., ugly House race leaves both sides angry

Old friends and political opposites Ronnie Matlock and Bill Saber greet voters in Bristol, Pa., in a last-minute attempt to sway opinion.
By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 1:14 PM

BRISTOL, PA. - At 7 a.m., it's dark and pretty cold here, and Rep. Patrick J. Murphy is expected to show up to vote any minute at the local redevelopment authority.

The Iraq veteran and two-term Democrat is fighting for his career, pushing back a challenge from the man he narrowly beat in 2006 in this Bucks County-centered district, former Republican congressman Mike Fitzpatrick. It's been a long, ugly race, emblematic of what's going on across the country - and it may go down to the wire, with accusations flying from both sides alleging absentee ballot fraud.

But the real show Tuesday morning stars volunteers Ronnie Matlock, 73, and Bill Sabo, 70, lifelong friends and political adversaries, manning the door and bickering.

"We have to stop Obamacare - worst vote since last great depression," Matlock, the Republican, says. "Your guy Murphy voted for it. He doesn't vote his conscience. He does what they tell him."

"Whadya talking about - Fitzpatrick voted with Bush 100 percent of the time. . . . I'm here for the seniors, the middle class and the poor - you're here for the 2 percent rich..."

"You don't know what you're talking about. He voted with Bush 87 percent."

"No, you don't know what you're talking about."

"Great - you want to privatize Social Security," scoffs Sabo.

"Oh, right. Let's give more money to the banks, they won't lend it to us," Matlock quips. "Want to see what our taxes look like in 2013? Just reelect Obama."

"You put signs up two days before you were allowed to."

And so it went for an hour, momentarily interrupted when Murphy showed up with his young family to cast a ballot in this predominantly white district, with high unemployment and high frustration.

"I'm unemployed. I've been looking or a job for three years. There are not jobs," said Cindy Schafle, 60, holding a Republican ballot in her hand. "I like the tea party. I think they'll be more flexible. People don't have a say anymore. I think the tea party will listen to both sides. Things are not right for the middle class.

"We've got to help the seniors, the retired people. A lot of promises were broken."

Murphy was a star in the district when the conversation was centered on the Iraq war. But as it shifted to the economy, his support became fragile.

A few months ago, it didn't look as if Murphy would make it, but the race has been tightening in this district north of Philadelphia. Fitzpatrick has tried at every turn to link Murphy with President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) - while Murphy has pounded Fitzpatrick his vote on a Central American free-trade agreement that he claims sent jobs overseas.

An absentee ballot fracas has become an issue in the tight race. Republicans have accused Murphy's side fraudulently collecting absentee ballot applications, and then making up personal voter data to put on the forms. Murphy has accused Republicans and Fitzpatrick supporters of deliberately disqualifying Democratic ballots. Unless one candidate wins overwhelmingly, the fight could end up in court.


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