October 7, 2010 at 6:41 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Locals rally around Murphy

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, lead House sponsor of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal, trails his GOP opponent by 14 points in a recent poll. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Local LGBT Democratic activists are making plans to travel to Pennsylvania to help the champion of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in the U.S. House in a challenging re-election campaign.

The National Stonewall Democrats and D.C.’s Gertrude Stein Democratic Club are collaborating in an effort dubbed “Stein Storm” to bring local supporters of U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) to his district to help with his campaign.

The organizations plan to bus Murphy supporters from D.C. to Pennsylvania’s 8th congressional district on the weekends of Oct. 15 and Oct. 22.

Linsey Pecikonis, a Stonewall spokesperson, said Murphy’s leadership on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal makes him one of the “strongest heroes here in the LGBT community.”

“Right now when we’re struggling as a community to have our voice represented in Congress, we can’t lose our heroes,” she said. “And so, the LGBT community needs to come out and show support for our strongest allies and Patrick Murphy is one of those.”

Murphy, who’s straight, has been praised by LGBT advocacy groups for taking the lead in repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the House.

An Iraq war veteran, Murphy assumed sponsorship last year of legislation that would repeal the statute when the bill had about 150 co-sponsors and gradually built support for the measure.

In May, Murphy introduced an amendment to major defense budget legislation that would lead to repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The measure passed, 234-194.

Jeffrey Richardson, president of the Stein Club, said his organization is planning to assist Murphy because of this work on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“We don’t have a lot of allies — particularly on the national level — these days, so when you have a strong ally like Rep. Murphy, we as a community have to stand up and do all that we can,” Richardson said. “We can’t sit on the sidelines.”

Although Richardson said he doesn’t have a final count on the number of local supporters who will travel from D.C. to help with Murphy’s campaign, he said he already has the commitment of about 10 to 15 volunteers.

Planned activities include phone banking and canvassing the district as well as giving Murphy more visibility in upcoming rallies planned in Pennsylvania.

Stonewall’s efforts go beyond helping to transport people from the D.C. area to Murphy’s district. The organization has one paid organizer working with the Murphy campaign to help with his re-election.

Additionally, Pecikonis said all Stonewall staffers will be spending time in Murphy’s district.

Murphy is among 12 Democratic candidates that Stonewall has endorsed as part of its “Elect Equality” initiative. Others in this group include Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), who’s facing a difficult re-election campaign, and Ed Potosnak, a gay schoolteacher who’s seeking to unseat Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.).

In a statement, Murphy said, “it’s been a honor” to have the support of LGBT people and to “work with them to advance pro-equality legislation and lead the fight to repeal the military’s discriminatory and outdated ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy.”

“When I served in Baghdad as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne, we didn’t care about the sexual orientation of the guy next to us, but rather whether he could do his job,” he said.

Murphy is facing a challenging re-election campaign. He’s running in what pundits expect to be a Republican year and against a GOP candidate he narrowly unseated in 2006 during a surge in Democratic popularity.

Mike Fitzpatrick, now an attorney, is challenging Murphy to regain the House seat he once held. Murphy defeated Fitzpatrick in 2006 by less than one percentage point.

Pecikonis warned that Republicans view Pennsylvania’s 8th congressional district as a potential pickup and are devoting considerable efforts to defeat Murphy.

“We see that Republicans feel that his seat is one of the most vulnerable seats in the House and they’re dumping millions of dollars into his opponent’s campaign,” she said.

Fitzpatrick opposes “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, according to the Bucks County Courier Times.

In response to an inquiry about the Senate’s recent failure to move forward with legislation that would end the law, Darren Smith, a Fitzpatrick spokesperson, was quoted as saying Democrats were forcing the issue too soon by not waiting for the completion of a Pentagon study due Dec. 1.

“What Congress has essentially done here is prejudged the outcome of that study,” Smith reportedly said. “If we ask the military to figure something out, why are [Senate Democrats and the White House] taking action now?”

Murphy said Fitzpatrick once held the view that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should be repealed and criticized him for what he said was changing his position on the issue.

“As far as I’m concerned, every day that goes by with this policy still in place is a disservice to all our troops and harms our national security,” he said.

Recent polling data confirms that Murphy won’t have an easy path to re-election this year. A poll published last month by Franklin & Marshall College found that he trails Fitzpatrick by 14 points among likely voters in the district.

The poll is based on phone interviews conducted between Sept. 14-19. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

But Murphy dismissed the poll and noted the same dire predictions were made by the same polling firm in the days before he defeated Fitzpatrick in 2006.

“Some polls have me up, others down,” Murphy said. “This was always going to be a tough race and I’m taking nothing for granted. National pundits like the Cook Report have cited my leadership on [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] repeal as the reason I’m in a tough fight, but I don’t give a damn what they say — what’s right is right.”

Richardson said the poll is “concerning” but also called the numbers a “rallying cry” for Murphy supporters.

“The reality is we can’t sit on the sidelines and just sort of sit back and say, ‘Well, he’s down in the polls. Well, OK,'” Richardson said. “We have to step it up and put our boots on the ground and try to do all that we can to get him back in Congress.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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