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After Two Losses, Pennsylvania’s Patrick Murphy Waits in the Wings

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Former Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) still works the Democratic National Convention like he’s a candidate.

He glad-hands with semi-familiar faces. He poses for photos with nervous admirers. He stops Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) in the hallway to alert him of a known Republican supporter in Florida, his mother-in-law.

“Everyone keeps asking me, ‘What are you running for?’” Murphy said minutes before he stepped onto the dais for a lunchtime panel on defense cuts. “I say, ‘Nothing.’”

But it’s an appropriate question — and one that’s on the minds of many Pennsylvania Democrats. Which office will the one-time rising star seek next?

In 2006, Murphy floated atop the crème of freshman Democratic victors. He upset an incumbent in a swing district to become the first Iraq War veteran elected to Congress. During the following four years, he wrote a book, addressed the 2008 Democratic National Convention, landed a coveted Appropriations Committee seat and authored the landmark repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the House.

And then Murphy lost. Twice. In fewer than two years.

Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R), his former foe, halted Murphy’s ascent when he defeated him in 2010. In April, Murphy blew the primary for state attorney general against a first-time candidate.

“I’m looking forward to the next chapter of my life,” Murphy said in an interview Tuesday. “That’s private and hopefully public service.”

Murphy, 38, isn’t done with politics yet. He campaigns and fundraises for candidates across the country. He talks about House races thousands of miles away from his Bucks County home. And at this convention, the Pennsylvania delegate served as vice chairman of his party’s platform committee.

He insists he’s not running again “anytime soon,” but who could blame him for wanting to get back in the game? The game was good to him.

Four years ago, Murphy occupied a top speaking slot at the Democratic convention, walking on stage with 25 fellow veterans to the tune of “Eye of the Tiger.” Indeed, Murphy was the center of it all: the Democratic wave, frustration over the Iraq War, the future Obama administration. Murphy backed the president early in his 2008 primary, making him one of his first Congressional supporters outside Illinois.

It only got better for Murphy during his second term — until he got swept out in the GOP wave of 2010. Ben Affleck modeled much of his character in the blockbuster “State of Play” after his friend Murphy. The Pennsylvania delegation lobbied for Murphy to pick up the late Rep. John Murtha’s (D-Pa.) seat on Appropriations after his death. He played point guard for House efforts to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which passed in the lame-duck session of last Congress.

His background in the 82nd Airborne Division, strong fundraising ability and Irish blue eyes formed a strong political profile for a future statewide officeholder. When the former JAG officer ran for state attorney general earlier this year, every House Democrat from Pennsylvania backed him over Lackawanna County prosecutor Kathleen Kane.

Kane upset Murphy, thanks to her own deep pockets and an enthusiastic endorsement from President Bill Clinton. Obama senior adviser David Axelrod endorsed Murphy, but the president didn’t do any events for one of the president’s earliest Congressional supporters.

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