In Western Pennsylvania’s once solidly red 18th Congressional District, Democrats have been eyeing Rep. Tim Murphy’s congressional seat since at least last year. But revelations in a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article – showing that the pro-life Murphy tried to pressure his mistress into having an abortion – have upended what was still regarded as an uphill battle for the 7-term congressman's opponents.
“I can unequivocally say that with this abortion stuff, this race is now definitely in play,” said Mike Mikus, a Democratic strategist who worked on Katie McGinty’s failed 2016 Senate campaign.
One Democratic challenger, self-described moderate and onetime Hillary Clinton booster Pam Iovino, decried Murphy’s actions as a betrayal of his longtime opposition to abortion access.
“This man has been staunchly against women's choice and their being in control of their own reproductive health. If there's truth to these reports...there’s no greater hypocrisy,” she said. “I think that PA-18 has an incumbent demonstrating yet again, to a deeper depth this time, that what he says he represents and what he does are two different things.”
Iovino claimed that Murphy had worked hard to suppress information about the affair and that there was likely “more to come.” She, like Murphy, once served in the Navy, and referred to his conduct as unbecoming of a former military officer, let alone a political leader.
“This just another telling sign that he is inappropriate for office,” she said. “It is completely unacceptable that a leader and a manager would not know how to treat people. These are the fundamentals of service.”
Nick Banesco, a spokesman for another Democratic candidate, Mike Crossey, a former teacher and Allegheny County Council member, said his campaign was “taking the high road” on the revelations about Murphy’s personal life and abortion politics.
“Mike was a schoolteacher for 35 years. He took his responsibility for educating young people very seriously. Has been a role model his whole life. That’s the kind of candidate he wants to be in the 18th District,” he said.
But asked about the impact the news would have on the race, Banesco was more sanguine.
“We’re in uncharted territory here,” he said.
A third Democrat, Bob Solomon, who described himself as a progressive candidate for office, could not be reached by press time.
A spokesperson for Murphy’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Murphy admitted to having an extramarital affair with Shannon Edwards, a forensic psychologist, last month. The first indications of the relationship came to light during Edwards’ divorce proceedings in 2016; emails and text messages introduced as evidence were more recently unsealed after a request from the Post-Gazette.
“You have zero issue posting your pro-life stance all over the place when you had no issue asking me to abort our unborn child just last week when we thought that was one of the options," read a key text message from Edwards, following a pregnancy scare with Murphy.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Mike Crossey as a Pittsburgh City Council member.