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Murphy-Kane race for AG a study in contrasts

Peter Jackson

Patrick Murphy and Kathleen Kane, the Democratic candidates for Pennsylvania attorney general, have a lot in common.

Both are lawyers. Both are married and each has two children. They share an Irish-American heritage, a Roman Catholic faith. They agree in principle on many issues and are quick to criticize the Republican leadership in Harrisburg for laws and legislation that clash with Democratic principles.

But it is the candidates' contrasting backgrounds and styles that will decide which of them becomes the nominee.

With two weeks left before the April 24 primary, Murphy and Kane had raised $4.6 million to define themselves and sustain their TV ad campaigns they launched in late March, according to campaign finance reports filed Friday.

Murphy, 38, has the broader resume _ five years in the Army's Judge Advocate General Corps and two terms representing a suburban Philadelphia district in the U.S. House of Representatives.

He was the first Iraq war veteran elected to Congress and the sponsor of legislation that repealed the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that barred gays from serving openly in the military forces.

"When I have seen wrong in my life, I have done everything I could to fight to fix it," Murphy told more than 100 party faithful who gathered in State College for a recent Saturday breakfast sponsored by the Centre County Democratic Committee.

Kane, who is making her first bid for elective office, would be the first woman to be elected as the state's chief legal and law-enforcement officer if she is nominated and wins the November general election. Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed is unopposed for the GOP nomination.

Kane, 45, worked for the Lackawanna County district attorney's office for nearly 13 years, prosecuting thousands of cases involving crimes ranging from public corruption to murder. She specialized in cases involving abuse of children and senior citizens, and headed the office's insurance-fraud unit. She left in 2007 to work on Hillary Clinton's campaign for president.

Running for attorney general "is a natural progression _ career-wise and experience-wise and knowledge-wise," she said during a recent campaign swing in the Scranton area, adding that hired consultants guide her on campaign strategy. "I know what I know and I know what I don't know."

The race is the top attraction in the Democratic primary.

Just this week, Kane was endorsed by The Philadelphia Inquirer and former President Bill Clinton planned to appear at a Kane rally in Montgomery County. Murphy, who has been endorsed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, got a boost from President Barack Obama's political strategist, David Axelrod, who stumped for him in Philadelphia.

Raising money is not a problem for Kane. So far, her campaign has been financed chiefly by her husband and a handful of other executives at Kane Is Able, a Scranton-based trucking and warehouse company that his family founded and owns. Of the $2.4 million the campaign raised through March 5, Chris Kane alone contributed or loaned $2.25 million, according to state campaign-finance reports.

Murphy, whose backers include major organized labor groups, former Gov. Ed Rendell and all seven Democrats in Pennsylvania's congressional delegation, reported raising $1.7 million.

"It'll be a competitive race," predicted Christopher Borick, a political scientist at Muhlenberg Colelge in Allentown.

Both candidates have aggressively sought to exploit what they see as weaknesses in their opponent.

Murphy portrays himself as the real Democrat in the contest.

"I would stack my life experience against either one of my opponents in this race, Democrat or Republican, and I'm proud that I prosecuted terrorists who tried to kill American soldiers," Murphy said in a recent interview.

Kane says Murphy lacks her professional credentials.

"He's running because he's a politician and he wants to be governor and then president," Kane told about 20 people who were eating lunch at the Abington Senior Community Center in Clarks Summit

Kane, whose supporters include former President Bill Clinton, has repeatedly questioned Murphy's qualifications to serve as attorney general, citing an Associated Press story in which he acknowledged that he did not take the Pennsylvania bar exam and has never tried a case in Pennsylvania's courts.

"Our criminal laws, our civil laws, are different from any other state," she said. "You need to know what the laws are. And if you don't then you're at a disadvantage" as attorney general.

Murphy has said he took the Minnesota exam because he was entering the JAG and was told he would get the results sooner. He was later admitted to the Pennsylvania bar based on his passing the Minnesota test and his experience as an Army lawyer. As a JAG lawyer, he said he has tried cases in federal, military and foreign courts.

Murphy cited a $500 contribution by Kane to then-Attorney General Tom Corbett's 2008 re-election campaign as evidence that she is not committed to Democratic ideals, such a supporting abortion rights and organized labor.

"I fought for those rights. I have a record on those issues. She has a record of being a major supporter of (now-Gov.) Tom Corbett when he was running for attorney general," he said.

The Associated Press