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Father of fallen Marine to seek office

Son's death in Iraq a wake-up call, candidate says.

Marine First Lt. Travis Manion, shot to death April 29 in Iraq, had a "passion for making a difference," his father recalled.
Marine First Lt. Travis Manion, shot to death April 29 in Iraq, had a "passion for making a difference," his father recalled.Read moreCourtesy of the Manion family

Last spring, as Tom Manion grieved the loss of his son in Iraq, he felt the warm embrace of the people of Bucks County.

Manion now hopes county voters will embrace him once again, this time as a Republican running for Congress.

The pharmaceutical executive yesterday announced his bid to oust U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, the freshman Democrat who served in Iraq, then built a winning campaign around getting the troops out.

Manion said he was inspired to run by the sacrifice of his son, Marine First Lt. Travis Manion, killed by a sniper April 29 near Fallujah.

"He believed in something bigger than himself, and he had a life's passion for making a difference in this world," Manion, 53, told a crush of family, friends and reporters in the kitchen of his Doylestown Township home. "Travis has given me a wake-up call that my service to this country is not over."

A race between Manion and Murphy could well be seen as a referendum on Iraq, although Manion yesterday did not cast it as such. Manion supports the current strategy in Iraq, including the surge in troops and the need to stay until Iraqis can peacefully assume control of their country. But Manion said he was frustrated with partisan gridlock over a host of issues, from health care and immigration to alternative energy and global warming.

"And, yes, I want to end the war in Iraq as soon as possible," he added. "No one is more committed to that goal than I - because I want no other parents to go through what Jannett [his wife] and I have. But in doing this, we must confront the threats to our nation's safety for this and future generations."

The death of Travis Manion, 26, a former three-sport standout at La Salle College High School, resonated in Bucks County as few losses have. Already, a local street has been named for him.

The community's reaction was heightened, in part, by the death four days later of another Doylestown son, Army First Lt. Colby Umbrell, 26.

Part of the reaction was due to the Manions' uncommon openness in sharing their loss with the public - even inviting the media to the arrival of their son's remains at Willow Grove Naval Air Station, an event that is normally cloistered. Throughout, Thomas Manion maintained an outspoken belief that his son had died for a worthy cause.

Trim and telegenic, the retired Marine Reserve colonel said he had conferred with Bucks County GOP chair Harry Fawkes and with former U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick - whom Murphy narrowly defeated - and was confident of the party's endorsement.

Fitzpatrick helped clear the way by announcing Monday that he would not try to reclaim the seat and would back Manion instead.

Still, the challenger's road will not be easy.

Murphy enjoys the advantage of incumbency in a congressional district where a once-pronounced Republican voter-registration advantage has eroded steadily since 1996. And Manion supports an unpopular stay-the-course strategy in Iraq that has helped push President Bush's approval ratings nationally to an all-time low.

Murphy, like Manion, remains identified with Iraq by many. But he, too, seeks to connect with voters on a wider range of issues.

"There will be plenty of time to talk about politics later on," Murphy's press secretary, Adam Abrams, said yesterday. "Right now we are focused on bringing people together for bipartisan solutions to problems such as flooding along the Delaware, veterans' benefits, and the state of our economy."

Murphy has yet to claim a mandate from voters in the Eighth Congressional District; he became the district's first Democratic congressman in 14 years by only about 1,500 votes. Fitzpatrick narrowly won in Bucks County, but Murphy prevailed in the Northeast Philadelphia and eastern Montgomery County portions of the district.

Manion, a vice president for information technology at Johnson & Johnson, is a Philadelphia native, one of 10 children born to a salesman and a homemaker. He graduated from Widener University, served 11 years of active duty in the Marines, and earned a master's degree from the Naval Postgraduate School.

He moved to Bucks County with his wife and two children in 1990, when he joined Johnson & Johnson.

In response to reporters' questions, he pronounced himself "pro-life" on abortion, but in favor of stem-cell research. Illegal immigrants, he said, should be deported until they can apply for citizenship or a work visa program.

A political novice, Manion said he wanted to change "the partisan culture" of Washington that he said had stymied the country.

"Even with the Iraqi situation, we need to work together," he said. "What I want to bring to the table is an ability to work with others toward solutions that are desperately needed by our country."