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Political impact of Democrat John Murtha's death is immediate

February 8, 2010 |  4:18 pm

Pennsylvania Democrat Representative John Murtha

Several bipartisan statements of condolences over the death today of Democratic Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania at 77 from complications of gallbladder surgery. (See them below.)

The political fallout of his passing was immediate.

Within hours Stu Rothenberg, probably the most astute political handicapper in Washington, moved Murtha's 12th District from safely Democratic (the tough-minded, aficionado of backroom politics, Murtha's only held the seat for 18 terms) into the "competitive category" for this November's midterm elections. Pennsylvania's Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell has 10 days to set a special election date, likely mid-May.

The 12th, which roughly surrounds Pittsburgh, has become accustomed to having the political and earmark clout of Murtha, the first Vietnam veteran (Marines) elected to Congress. That happened in a special 1974 election that laid bare the emerging political vulnerabilities of embattled Pres. Richard Nixon.

It's one more Democratic House seat that becomes vulnerable in a year (the....

...first midterms of a new presidency) that history suggests the White House party will lose congressional strength, unless that White House is occupied by George W. Bush, who gained seats in 2002.

As a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee and chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee was a top adviser to Nancy Pelosi and a Democratic powerhouse who harvested and distributed info and favors from the back of the House chamber in what was respectfully called "Murtha's corner."

Not surprisingly fellow Democrats had more to say about the death than Republicans. A selection of public reactions:

President Obama:

Michelle and I were deeply saddened today to hear about the passing of Congressman John Murtha.  Jack was a devoted husband, a loving father and a steadfast advocate for the people of Pennsylvania for nearly 40 years. His passion for service was born during his decorated career in the United States Marine Corps, and he went on to earn the distinction of being the first Vietnam War combat veteran elected to Congress.  Jack’s tough-as-nails reputation carried over to Congress, where he became a respected voice on issues of national security.  Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife of nearly 55 years, Joyce, their three children, and the entire Murtha family.

Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee:

I am saddened to hear of the passing of Congressman John Murtha. My heartfelt condolences go out to the entire Murtha family.  For over four decades, Congressman Murtha faithfully served the people of Pennsylvania and his presence will be missed both at home and here on Capitol Hill.

Tim Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee:

Today we mourn the loss of a great American figure who dedicated his  life to serving his country both in the military and in the halls of Congress. Congressman Murtha had a storied 37-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps and in 1974 he became the first Vietnam War combat veteran elected to Congress.
 
Just the other day, Congressman Murtha became the longest serving Pennsylvanian in the history of the House of Representatives. During his career, he worked hard to bring tens of thousands of middle class jobs to western Pennsylvania. His legacy as a fighter for his causes and his constituents will be remembered long after his passing.  Our thoughts and prayers today are with the Congressman’s wife, his children and his grandchildren.

Rep. John Boehner, House Republican Minority Leader:

Today, our nation has lost a decorated veteran and the House of Representatives has lost one of its own.  I was saddened to hear of John Murtha’s passing, and my thoughts and prayers are with his friends and loved ones.  I also want to express my condolences to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who valued Congressman Murtha’s advice and friendship.  He will be missed.

Pelosi (excerpt):

Today, with the passing of Jack Murtha, America lost a great patriot. He served our country on the battlefield winning two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star. He served his country in his community winning the hearts of his constituents and served in the Congress winning the respect of his colleagues...

Here's a less sympathetic evaluation of Murtha. A full Murtha obituary is here.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Associated Press

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