In one of the region's more spirited congressional races, Democrat Larry Maggi and Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy are squaring off in an 18th District with a plurality of Democratic -- if conservative-minded -- voters.
Mr. Murphy, 60, of Upper St. Clair has kept his job since 2003 with a deft balancing act. He's pursued a mostly conservative agenda in Washington, D.C., yet been moderate enough to attract the support of constituent groups ranging from veterans to business, police and organized labor.
"You can't get any more diverse than that," he said.
Mr. Murphy has easily deflected previous opponents, including a challenge in spring's primary from Tea Party-aligned Evan Feinberg, who said Mr. Murphy wasn't conservative enough.
But Mr. Maggi, 62, chairman of Washington County commissioners and a Buffalo Township resident, is a different kind of opponent for Mr. Murphy in the Nov. 6 election. A former Marine, retired state trooper and former Washington County sheriff who's also well known as a referee for youth wrestling, Mr. Maggi shares many of his opponent's constituencies.
Both emphasize humble upbringings. One of 11 children, Mr. Murphy said he learned how to cooperate at an early age.
Mr. Maggi would like to have challenged Mr. Murphy earlier. In 2002, Mr. Maggi lost the Democratic primary to Jack Machek of North Huntingdon, who lost to Mr. Murphy in the general election.
Now, Mr. Maggi is trying to leverage the district's registration edge while portraying Mr. Murphy as the kind of Washington insider who has turned the federal government into a source of national frustration.
"The federal government is just a mess," he said, citing an urgent need to cut spending.
For his own part, Mr. Murphy, a supporter of a balanced budget amendment, is telling voters that he wants to continue working on issues important to them.
"The economy still has a long way to go," said Mr. Murphy, a psychologist, author and former radio host and state senator.
Mr. Murphy and Mr. Maggi both describe themselves as anti-abortion and supporters of the Second Amendment.
Both have close ties to the veterans community. Mr. Maggi's father, Carl, long has been active in the American Legion. Mr. Murphy, a lieutenant colonel in the Naval Reserve Medical Service Corps, said it's been deeply moving for him to work with veterans suffering from brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In a television ad, Mr. Maggi has questioned Mr. Murphy's commitment to Medicare. In his own ad, Mr. Murphy asserts his commitment to the program and accuses Mr. Maggi of trying to distract voters from real estate tax increases that occurred during his time as a commissioner.
Mr. Murphy voted against President Barack Obama's health-care plan, the economic stimulus program and the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy pertaining to gay service members.
He authored legislation intended to enhance Medicare coverage of mental health treatment and revamp Medicare's Secondary Payer Program.
Mr. Maggi says he has a good story of his own to tell, one of financial stewardship, economic progress and county-level bipartisanship.
During his tenure as sheriff, Mr. Maggi said, he enhanced the image of a department that had been tainted by a job-selling scandal that occurred under a previous officeholder. He said he upgraded equipment, started a bicycle patrol and increased training for deputies.
Mr. Maggi also reined in the finances of a department that had been chronically over budget.
As a county commissioner since 2004, Mr. Maggi has helped to run a county buoyed by retail and office development and the Marcellus Shale boom. He said he's helped to produce eight balanced budgets and a low tax rate that's lured Allegheny County residents to new housing developments.
He said the secret has been to put progress over politics. "I think we can take some of our Washington County successes to Washington, D.C.," he said.electionspa
Joe Smydo: email@example.com or 412-263-1548. First Published October 21, 2012 4:00 AM