Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Who Will Replace John Murtha?

Summary: Following the death of Congressman Murtha (D-PA), candidates prepare for a competitive special election.

Last night, the powerful Democratic Congressman from Pennsylvania’s 12th district – John Murtha – died of complications during gallbladder surgery. He was 77.

Murtha was first elected in 1974 during a special election in the midst of the Watergate scandal. One of the first Vietnam War veterans elected to Congress, he would see his own share of scandal over the years, but ultimately survive them. A confidant of Tip O’Neil and Nancy Pelosi, he directed virtually all defense spending as Chair of the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.

Using the power of incumbency, he always managed to bring in more than 55% of the vote for him during his re-elections.

But now his seat is vacant, and it’s likely to be an especially competitive special election this Spring.

From Politico:

His passing means there will be a special election held during the spring to fill the remainder of his term. Once the congressman’s vacancy is declared, Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa.) has 10 days to call the special election date, which can be held 60 days or less from his declaration.

The most likely special election date, according to Democratic sources, is May 18, the same date as the regularly-scheduled Pennsylvania primary election. Holding the special election along with the primaries would save Pennsylvania, already struggling to balance its budget, a significant amount of money.

There will be no special primary to nominate candidates. Instead, county party leaders from Murtha’s western Pennsylvania-based 12th District will each select the nominees at a convention, and the winners will then square off in the special election.

The Cook Political Report changed its rating of the now-vacant seat to “toss-up” status Monday evening, making it the 50th Democratic-held House seat rated in its most competitive groupings.

In 2008, while Murtha won over 57% in PA-12, John McCain was able to edge out Barack Obama in the presidential contest there by less than 1%.


Murtha’s former challenger – William Russell – was already set to run again and has raised almost $3 million. Unfortunately for him, his direct mail consultants are particularly expensive and he spends almost everything he brings in as soon as it’s deposited. As of the end of 2009, he had about $211,000 cash-on-hand. His primary opponent, however, has raised even less than what Russell currently has.

These are certainly things that local party leaders are going to take into account when choosing a candidate for the May election.

On the Democratic side, Murtha had an unusual primary challenge from ex-Naval officer Ryan Bucchianeri. While his background seems good – in terms of electability in this district – I can definitely see him being passed over by the 12CD Democratic Party because he had the gall to challenge Murtha. This is especially so in the short aftermath of the Congressman’s passing.

If things go the way they have been going for Democrats in moderate areas over the past few months, this is bad news for them. Recent elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts are giving Republicans a feeling of momentum, and they’re as fired-up as ever.

That’s not to say it’s impossible for the Democratic nominee, but it won’t be easy.

1 comment:

Stranded Wind said...

The actual progress within PA-12 seems to be the selection of a caretaker for the seat until the November election. There is a long time Democrat who has held a statewide seat under consideration and it's well known he does not aspire to a trip to Washington.

Ryan Bucchianeri reacted quickly to the news of John Murtha's death, accelerating the campaign team creation in the background and remaining diplomatically silent on the Congressman's passing.