The Political Fallout of John Murtha's Death

Beltway pundits waste no time making predictions

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Democratic Rep. John Murtha died Monday. Representing a competitive working-class Pennsylvania district, Murtha is being remembered for his influence on defense, his volte-face on the Iraq War, and his close friendship with Nancy Pelosi. Commentators on the left and right are greeting his death with sympathy, while acknowledging disagreements. Beltway pundits, of course, are quickly laying out the prospects for the race in his district.


  • 'King of Pork' Martin Weil and Carol Leonnig write a masterful obituary in the Washington Post. They describe Murtha's reputation for playing deft politics with federal money: "Critics dubbed Murtha, the chairman of the powerful subcommittee that controls Pentagon spending, the 'King of Pork' for the volume of taxpayer money he could direct to the area around his home town of Johnstown." This New Republic story digs deeper.
  • Respect From the Right Joe Scarborough of NBC says, "I liked Jack Murtha very much. He was a no nonsense guy who never took policy differences personally--and we disagreed often." Conservative national security writer Steve Schippert echoes the sentiment, saying "RIP Jack Murtha and prayers for his family. Political comment reserved. Hope others do same for the day."
  • "Hero to Johnstown" Jonathan Martin at Politico characterizes Murthas a "classic 'deer hunter' country dem. anti-abortion, pro-gun, pro-labor and big into vets/seniors." He then explains that "Murtha's legacy in Johnstown will be held up historically -- few members of Congress have had such practical impact on hometown."
  • Swung Support for the War Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress tells Politico that he will "never forget" Murtha's 2005 switch to opposing the War in Iraq. "I will never forget the 'Murthquake' on the Iraq debate - when Congressman Murtha came out against the Bush administration's Iraq policy in the fall of 2005. His voice was crucial in shaping a new debate on national security - a debate in which progressive voices demonstrated courage to challenge the conventional wisdom at the time."

Political Predictions

  • Prepare for a Fight Rick Klein of ABC News "Murtha's district is certain to be hotly contested this year. Republicans have long viewed his predominantly rural district as a prime pick-up opportunity. Murtha's was the only congressional district in the country to support John Kerry in 2004 and John McCain in 2008."
  • Weakens Democrats Further writes Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post. "Murtha's passing comes at a tenuous time for House Democrats as they seek to convince some of their older members to re-up for another term in the face of what looks to be a difficult national political environment for the party. ... Murtha's death also makes Pennsylvania perhaps the most competitive state in the country when it comes to the battle for the House."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.