Rep. Murtha: GOP's New Target?
With Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) all over the news following his call for an immediate redeployment of American troops from Iraq last week, The Fix decided to look at whether Murtha has put himself in political jeopardy back home by playing such a high profile role in this most contentious of issues.
The short answer is no.
Murtha has represented the 12th district, which encompasses the extreme southwestern portion of the state, since 1974 when he won a special election. He has faced little serious competition ever since; the few real races he has had have come against Democrats in primary battles.
In 1990, Murtha defeated attorney Kenneth Burkley by less than 5,000 votes in the Democratic primary -- a shocking result given that Murtha had become a major inside player within the Democratic-controlled House.
Twelve years later Murtha found himself in another intraparty squabble as Republican redistricters (with Murtha's advice and consent) carved up southwestern Pennsylvania to create a suburban Pittsburgh seat -- the 18th district -- that leaned Republican. Under the new lines, Rep. Frank Mascara (D) was drawn into the 18th but chose instead to challenge Murtha in the 12th where each member had previously represented roughly half of the district's population. Murtha crushed Mascara 64 percent to 36 percent in the primary.
General elections have generally been a cakewalk for Murtha even though his district proved very competitive during the 2004 presidential election. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) won the district 51 percent to 49 percent over President Bush even as Murtha was winning reelection unopposed.
State and national Republicans admitted that prior to Murtha's speech last week they had no illusions about having a chance to win the seat until the congressman chooses to retire. But now they believe there is a glimmer of hope.
"The door to that district has always been closed tightly," said Josh Wilson, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Republican Party. "After the position Congressman Murtha took last week, the door is cracked ever so slightly." Wilson said several potential GOP candidates have emerged since Murtha's speech last week.
A look at Murtha's House campaign account shows he is more than prepared should a real race develop. He ended September with $1.6 million in the bank.
Sarah Feinberg, a spokeswoman at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, dismissed concerns about Murtha's electoral viability in the wake of his Iraq comments. "John Murtha has a long and solid record of delivering for his district and standing up for the families of Pennsylvania," she said.
This race isn't likely to be in play next year unless the GOP comes through with a very strong candidate, which they have failed to do for the past three decades against Murtha.
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