PoliticsPA: Republican field taking shape for Murtha’s seat
By Alex Roarty
PoliticsPA Staff Writer
Former military officer Bill Russell and businessman Tim Burns began their campaigns in the 12th Congressional District before John Murtha died last week, and the two Republicans appear to be the only GOP candidates set run for the now-open seat after his death.
With one notable exception.
Republican sources tell PoliticsPA that Crown America CEO Mark Pasquerilla, as reported elsewhere, is seriously considering a campaign.
“He called me and said, ‘I’m very interested in running,'” said one Republican insider who wished to remain anonymous to speak candidly.
The Johnstown native, who still lives in the city, is personally wealthy and would be able to self-fund his campaign. His inclusion would undoubtedly shake up Republican efforts to win the seat.
Other Republicans said to be considering a campaign, including state Sen. Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) and state Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana), have told PoliticsPA they would not run. Ward doesn’t live in the district and Reed is head of the state House Republican Campaign Committee in a critical year for the caucus.
Republicans sources say state Rep. Jeff Pyle (R-Indiana) is no longer considering a campaign. Washington County Commissioner Diana Irey, also tapped as a possibly candidate, is already co-chair of Burns’ campaign.
George Dunbar, chairman of the Westmoreland County GOP, said earlier this week no other candidate had contacted him about running. His county is the largest in the 12th District and, consequently, meaning Dunbar will play a critical role in selecting the Republican candidate.
Appointed conferees, not voters, will decide which Republican appears on the ballot for the May 18 special election. Each of the nine counties in the 12th District will be assigned a number of conferees based on how many votes they cast for Republican Presidential candidate John McCain in 2008.
Despite his wealth, the selection process might not be well-suited for Pasquerilla because the businessman has previously been supportive of Murtha. In 2009, with the congressman taking flak nationally for his earmarks and connection to a lobbying firm under FBI investigation, Pasquerilla wrote an editorial for the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat defending Murtha.
“I love fairy tales, but not Washington fairy tales,” he wrote in the paper. “Here is the fairy tale: That only our congressman takes campaign donations from lobbyists and defense firm employees and PACS, and that only our congressman writes earmarks.”
Although the businessman later called himself a “card-carrying Republican and neo-con,” his support of Murtha likely won’t sit well with Republicans now tasked with deciding if he should represent the party.
His candidacy faces an “uphill” climb, according to the Republican official.
“I just don’t think that’s the direction folks are going to go at the end of the day,” the Republican said.
Russell put a scare into Murtha when he ran against him in 2008, forcing the congressman to unexpectedly campaign and spend more than $1 million in the race’s final weeks. The Army veteran remains a favorite of many conservative activists, but his campaign was predicated on aggressively criticizing Murtha.
Burns has campaigned more against President Obama’s agenda than Murtha specifically, and his business experience is helpful at a time when the economy remains priority No. 1 for voters. But he is also a political neophyte in a race that could draw heavy scrutiny from both local and national media.
UPDATE: Pasquerilla told the Post-Gazette on Thursday that if Murtha’s widow, Joyce, decides to run for the seat, as rumored, he will not campaign against her. Otherwise, he’ll consider a campaign for the seat, he said.