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It’s a hotly contested race in Delaware Valley — and one of the most-watched across the country.

Wednesday brought the first debate in the fight to represent Bucks County in Congress — Pennsylvania’s Eighth District seat, currently held by Democrat Patrick Murphy.

murphy Candidates Face Off in Debate for Bucks Congressional Seat

Murphy (right, top) squared off with the man he unseated — Republican Mike Fitzpatrick — in a forum moderated by KYW’s Larry Kane, for his “Voice of Reason” program on Comcast.

Both Murphy and Fitzpatrick blamed the other — and the other’s political party — for starting and stoking the nation’s economic ills.

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Murphy was given heat for supporting President Obama’s stimulus package, but he says it was the only way to recover from a deep recession he pegs on Republicans:

“We lost eight million jobs in the Bush administration. We were losing — in the last three months — 800,000 jobs a month. We were sliding into a depression, and I didn’t want to go there. We shouldn’t have gone there. So we had to act.”

fitzpatrick Candidates Face Off in Debate for Bucks Congressional Seat

But Fitzpatrick (right, bottom) says past and current policies pushed by Democrats are proving anything but beneficial to the economy:

“In order to improve the economy, we need smaller government and more jobs. And the way to do that is to empower the job creators in this great nation. Cut taxes, you reduce spending, you put more of their hard-earned dollars in their pocket so they can invest it in the economy.”

Murphy says the Republicans’ call to continue the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans is the wrong way to go. What’s his plan?

“We have to start making things in our country again. We have to bring back jobs to our country and grow jobs. That’s why this election is so important — it couldn’t be more of a contrast. When my opponent was in office as a congressman, he shipped jobs overseas.”

But Fitzpatrick says continuing those tax cuts — even at a time of deep deficits –is a bottom-line benefit:

“If you believe in pro-growth economic policies, you believe that when you cut taxes, people will invest in the economy, create jobs, more people working, more people paying payroll taxes — ultimately, revenue to the federal government will go up. It will not go down.”

Murphy beat Fitzpatrick by a slim margin in 2006. This year, the Iraq War veteran hopes to win a third term — and keep the Republican on the sidelines. But a poll paid for by Fitzpatrick’s campaign and released last month has him leading the race by seven percentage points.

The debate will air on the Comcast Network on Sunday night at 9:30pm.

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