While all signs are pointing to the economy as the decisive issue in the upcoming election, both locally and nationally, it was questions on foreign policy and Iraq that drew the most-forceful responses during a debate at a Bucks County synagogue between U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-District 8) and Republican challenger Tom Manion.
"It's time for the Iraqi government to stand up and take responsibility," said Murphy, a 34-year-old Iraq war veteran who was elected two years ago on the platform of a phased troop withdrawal from Iraq. Murphy asserted that Iraq was draining the resources of the armed forces, as well as the economy.
Manion, 54, a Marine Corps veteran whose son Travis was killed in Iraq, countered that, "if we leave there without talking about the consequences, and seeing that place fall apart, it's irresponsible."
The Johnson & Johnson executive said directly to Murphy, "You may have served with General [David] Petraeus, but I'm sure he doesn't need your advice as to how to proceed strategically."
Several hundred people, many sporting Manion and Murphy buttons, packed into the sanctuary at Shir Ami-Bucks County Jewish Congregation for the Sunday-afternoon debate. The League of Women Voters and the synagogue's men's club sponsored the affair. Earlier in the day, the two candidates appeared jointly at Congregation Tifereth Israel of Lower Bucks County in Bensalem. On Sunday, Oct. 19, the candidates -- including Independent Tom Lingenfelter -- are slated to take questions at Temple Judea of Bucks County in Doylestown.
The candidates fielded questions on a wide range of issues. Perhaps the most-unexpected question from moderator Kelly Green, president of the League of Women Voters' Philadelphia branch, came when she pressed the candidates on what advice they would have offered President George W. Bush if they had been able to speak with him on Sept. 12, 2001.
Manion said that he would have advised Bush against trying to rally the American people to "get back to normal" and, instead, try to inspire a sense of shared sacrifice. Murphy said he would have told Bush to scrap his plans to cut taxes, and to forget about invading Iraq and focus on Afghanistan and Al Qaeda.
But for members of the audience, the focus was the economy, unreservedly.
Len Dubas, a 60-year-old resident of Holland, said that he supports Manion because "he's a businessman and he understands the economy."
Francine Davis, a 68-year-old Yardley resident, supports Murphy. Her top concern?
"The economy. Absolutely. Everybody took a bloodbath last week," said Davis. "We have to be taken care of. What I want to know is, how are we going to be made whole?"