January 8, 2008 – An Army Reserve Colonel and decorated Iraq war veteran joined a growing pack of Democrats vying for the chance to take on U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) in November.
Col. R. Wayne Dudding, who was awarded the Bronze Star for closing valves on a burning oil well near Haditha, said Monday he plans to focus his campaign on the Iraq war, energy independence and health care. He joins five other Democrats looking to unseat Murphy, the three-term Republican incumbent from Upper St. Clair.
Other Democrats who said they are seeking the 18th Congressional District seat are Beth Hafer of Mt. Lebanon; Steve O’Donnell, a Monroeville businessman; Erin Vecchio, a Penn Hills school board member; Brien Wall, an Upper St. Clair insurance company employee; and Dan Wholey, also of Upper St. Clair and an owner of Wholey’s Fish Market in the Strip District. O’Donnell and Wall served at military installations during the Vietnam War.
“I just feel that, with the experience I have, it’s important to try to add my voice to the debate,” said Dudding, 46, of Robinson.
Dudding wants to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq, but said he thinks the debate needs to focus less on the number of troops in the country and more on how to achieve the conditions that would allow troops to leave. He said lawmakers should worry about how to train more Iraqi security forces, improve economic conditions and foster political reconciliation in Iraq.
Dudding’s campaign also will seek to tie energy independence to national security.
“If we don’t do something, some day we will send our soldiers into harm’s way over oil. I really don’t want to see that,” he said.
Hafer, by contrast, plans to campaign primarily on domestic issues, said Joe Naunchik, a campaign staffer. Hafer is the daughter of former state treasurer and auditor general Barbara Hafer.
“All politics is local. The district’s been hard hit. The region is losing population,” Naunchik said.
Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district by about 62,000, but Murphy still was able to defeat his last challenger, Chad Kluko, 58 percent to 42 percent.
“I think his record has been great,” said Bob Gleason, chairman of the state Republican Party. “It’s very difficult to beat an incumbent who’s doing a good job.”
The registration advantage likely is an illusion, caused by so-called Reagan and Casey Democrats who vote Republican but have maintained their party affiliation out of habit, said Berwood Yost, director of the Floyd Institute of Public Policy at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster. Current political attitudes, however, might give the Democratic candidate a chance to win those voters back, he said.
“This is a completely different ballgame. You’re talking about another electoral environment than there was in 2006” when Democrats captured the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, Yost said. “It may be even worse for Republicans this year.”
“It’s a daunting task. They’re going to have to raise over $1 million, and … that’s hard to do,” he said. “I’m not a bit worried.”