‘Real’ Pennsylvanians & the Murtha Backlash

October 23, 2008 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

Longtime Democratic Rep. John Murtha of Johnstown, Pa., is still revered in many circles for speaking out early against the Iraq war. But conservatives think he might be vulnerable this year because of his recent observation that “there is no question that Western Pennsylvania is a racist area.”

Murtha was explaining why he thought Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, faced a tough fight in that part of the state — though he expected Obama to win Pennsylvania. Later, Murtha inflamed voters even more when he noted that he actually meant to say people in his district were ” redneck” rather than “racist.”

Republicans were quick to jump on his remarks. Sen. John McCain, the GOP presidential nominee, cited Murtha’s remarks at a rally this week in Moon, Pa. McCain mangled his delivery a bit, but still managed to declare that “Western Pennsylvania is the most patriotic, most God-loving, most patriotic part of America.”

I have a particular interest in all this because my hometown is Johnstown, Pa. I wondered how all this was  playing out there. So I tapped one of the smartest Pennsylvanians I know — my older brother, Mike. Here’s his reaction:

The trouble is Murtha’s statement was, in his own way, nuanced, and that

makes it easy to take out of context.  Second, to defend him is to be on the


There are rednecks here like there are in Idaho and  and

Minnesota (hello, insane congresswoman!) and elsewhere.  Anybody could say

there are a lot of racists in those areas, but things are getting better, and

basically he was making a true statement. That’s why Murtha shouldn’t have said

it; Murtha is a lightning rod for the right-wing nutbags at this point.

But what do I know? I must hate America.

Last time I was home, I drove past the site in downtown Johnstown where Northrop Grumman is building a  facility in a new technology park. Guess who brought that one home.

Despite the enthusiasm over at the National Review for Murtha’s Republican challenger, retired Lt. Col. William Russell, I wonder whether voters really would choose to send Murtha packing for his remarks. Or whether they’ll keep him around to hang on to the high-paying jobs he brings in.

Which, in its way, mirrors some of the conflicts at the center of this year’s presidential campaign.