How Jack 'The Big Fish' Murtha Got Away
Luckily for Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), his constituents weren't too offended. The folks he labeled "redneck" and "racist" wound up reelecting him by an overwhelming margin - 58 percent to 42 percent - despite polls showing he was toast.
Murtha, chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, coasted along all summer ignoring his reelection race, giving away his money to other House candidates who he thought needed it more. He hadn't a care in the world until one day - after he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that "Western Pennsylvania is a racist area" - a poll showed he could actually lose to his GOP challenger, retired Army lieutenant colonel William Russell.
That's when the emergency Murtha rescue plan was formed. Operation Save Jack involved veteran fundraiser Susan O'Neill (daughter of the late former Speaker Tip O'Neill), campaign manager Abe Dyk and uber Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta, who ran John Kerry's Pennsylvania campaign in 2004 and Bill Clinton's in 1992 and 1996.
Former President Clinton came to Murtha's Johnstown district twice within about 10 days. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton did robo calls. And Podesta parachuted in from Brazil, where he and his wife, Heather Podesta, also an "L" word (lobbyist), were enjoying vacation - until his phone rang.
It was O'Neill calling in a panic. "She said I should end my vacation and get to Johnstown," Podesta tells us. So he did.
A frenetic ground operation of door knocking, phone calling and fundraising ensued. Within about 10 days, Murtha raised more than $1 million. (The politically ambidextrous gun-loving hero to anti-war liberals took about $5,000 from the National Rifle Association's PAC, and more than $150,000 from MoveOn.org.) It was enough to help pay for four TV spots that ran during Monday night's Steelers game against the Redskins.
At least they didn't waste their money like the National Republican Congressional Committee did. Nearly frothing at the mouth to knock off the powerful Master of Earmarking - who irritated Republicans to no end over the past three years - the NRCC spent close to $600,000 to defeat Murtha, while cutting off the money supply to others, including now defeated Reps. Robin Hayes in North Carolina and Joe Knollenberg in Michigan.
"We were pretty brutal in our decision-making," Rep. Tom Cole, the NRCC chairman, conceded in a post-midnight conference call with reporters on election night.
And don't Hayes and Knollenberg know it.
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