As GOP Battle Wages, Maggi Waits in the Wings
The Washington County Commissioner has been running for Congress for a little over two months, but so far most attention in the 18th district has been focused on the GOP primary. Rep. Tim Murphy faces a challenge from Evan Feinberg, a former staffer to Sens. Tom Coburn and Rand Paul.
But while Republicans duke it out, Democrats are gearing up.
“It seems Republicans have problems with Congressman Murphy, Democrats have problems with Congressman Murphy, independents, everybody. We’re watching it to see what happens,” Maggi said.
He started getting calls from local and national party officials the day the new congressional maps were released in December 2011. Since then, he’s quietly put together a campaign team.
Dems from Pa. to Washington (DC) view Maggi as one of the party’s top congressional recruits in the state, in part thanks to his golden resume.
“Larry Maggi’s experience as a Marine, State Trooper, Sherriff and County Commissioner overseeing the third best county in the country for job creation make him an excellent candidate and future member of Congress,” said DCCC Chairman, Rep. Steve Israel. “Larry is off to an impressive start with a clear path to victory.”
Maggi, 61, served in the U.S. Marine Corps stateside from 1969 to 1971; attended the California University of Pa; spent 24 years as a state trooper starting in 1973; won election as Washington Co. Sheriff in 1997; and won election as County Commissioner in 2003. He also ran for Congress in 2002, but lost the primary to Jack Machek (who in turn lost to Murphy). He’s married with 4 children and 2 grandchildren – plus one on the way.
He boasts that Washington County is tops in the country for job growth (in part thanks to the booming Marcellus shale operations in the region).
“We’re the third fastest-growing job market in the nation,” he said, in part to county policies. “We’ve had eight balanced budgets without deficit spending. We got government out of the way to create jobs.”
He had to settle for a smaller campaign office, he said, because business real estate is so hard to come by.
Maggi sounds like a true blue Democrat when he talks about Medicare. Like challengers across the state and the country, he criticizes Murphy for his support of a budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan.
“He’s voted now twice against Medicare, that’s a big issue here,” Maggi said of Murphy. “People are scared to death over what’s going on. We need to cut spending, there’s no question. Congressman Murphy and I agree, we do have to cut spending. But I don’t think we need to cut it on the backs of senior citizens.”
He said his father would pay $6,000 more per year under the plan.
Supporters, like Murphy, say the plan would change Medicare in order to keep it alive.
“The facts are clear, Medicare is headed towards bankruptcy. Anyone failing to recognize the seriousness of the issue is either mathematically-challenged or in denial. Congressman Murphy is working on solutions so it remains strong for our seniors today and years to come,” said Murphy campaign manager James Genovese.
Maggi is still new, still refining his campaign issues. Asked about reducing spending, he cited the familiar chorus of waste, fraud and abuse. He said the tax rates for top earners should be raised to the Clinton-era levels.
But he doesn’t wrap his arms around too many tenets of the Democratic party. He’s pro-life, owns six handguns, and says he would have voted against the party’s health care law.
“It has some good parts, and it has some parts that need changed. The individual mandate has obviously created a lot of problems. But I think pre-existing condition coverage is good, and people can stay on plans until age 26.”
That’s appropriate. Democrats haven’t historically fared too well against Murphy – he’s routinely defeated them by 20 points.
But with the right, sufficiently conservative candidate, the party may have a shot. The district has never been as deep red as Murphy made it look, and redistricting made it more Democratic. The 18th absorbed many Jack Murtha voters in Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
The new map of the 18th “has a Democratic performance index of 50.48 percent,” says Maggi’s campaign Manager Bradley Komar. Like the two fundraisers in the next office, Komar was referred to Maggi by the DCCC. He’s previously run races in New Jersey, New York, and Kentucky. The latter likely prepared him best for PA-18 which, bordered on two sides by West Virginia, has much in common with the coal states.
Taken with his primary challenge, Democrats see an opportunity. The DCCC added Murphy to their regular press release attack list a few months ago.
National Republicans aren’t turning a blind eye to the general election, either.
The DCCC’s GOP equivalent has been zinging Maggi for weeks now. The day he announced, the NRCC blasted him for a property tax increase he supported during his first year as Commissioner.
He voted to increase the mill rate from 17.5 mills to 21.4.
“Make no mistake, if Larry Maggi voted to increase property taxes by 22 percent during his first weeks as a county commissioner, what’s to say he wouldn’t try to raise taxes again during his first weeks in Congress?” said NRCC Spokesman Nat Sillin.
“That’s accurate,” Maggi said, “but we have one of the lowest tax rates in southwestern Pennsylvania – second lowest, and one of the lowest in the state.” He noted that the increase amounted to about $20 per year per household.
He can look forward to these and similar questions over the coming months, as it appears that both parties prepare for a fight in the 18th.