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How Jack 'The Big Fish' Murtha Got Away

Pennsylvania Democrat Rep. John Murtha needed a little help from his friends to beat back his Republican challenger.

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 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.

By Mary Ann Akers  |  November 5, 2008; 4:15 PM ET
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Maybe those non racists in the pittsburgh area, and those Actual racists around the area decided
"well, actually Murtha is right, those areas are racist, and your point is?"

Above, that Murtha has gotten so much pork for his state over the decades hes been in office, hes as dear to Pennsylvanians as Ted Stevens is to Alaskans.
Just that PA has a much higher population and puts more back into economy than Alaska does, so it doesnt take the ridiculously high amount back per capita that Alaska does.

Posted by: Fuelbreakingme | November 6, 2008 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps Jack Murtha really knows "the people" in his congressional district who elected him. This is something the Republicans should take note of and learn.

Posted by: amurray3 | November 7, 2008 10:01 AM | Report abuse

so, if murtha is put into office by racists and rednecks, where does that leave him or us??

Posted by: georgeh | November 7, 2008 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Murtha won because telling the unpleasant truth about much of Western Pennsylvania - I live here and have been assured by many people that they are bigots and don't see a problem with it - could not possibly trump the fact that a good 60% of his constituents owe him their jobs. Kicking him out in favor of a junior member of the minority party would have been counter to their own economic interests. Simple explanation.

And I am sure that it didn't hurt him to have Mrs. Clinton robocall outside his district (not in his district, received four Clinton robocalls in two days) in hopes of garnering outside pressure on friends and family in his district.

Posted by: revruthucc | November 7, 2008 11:47 AM | Report abuse

My husband and I were blogging on ABC News yesterday about Obama and all our posts have been deleted. What happened to freedom of speech. They were not mean and we did not use filthy language in the blogs we just stated some facts!!!

Posted by: pattyduke45 | November 9, 2008 11:09 AM | Report abuse

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