Monday, February 8, 2010

John Murtha Dies

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., died at the age of 77 today of complications from gall bladder surgery.

He was a former Marine and the first combat veteran from the Vietnam War who was elected to Congress. He is probably best known for opposing the continuation of the war in Iraq, much to the consternation of many in the Bush administration.

I suppose you could call Murtha a "Watergate baby." He was really the first Democrat who was swept into office in the anti–Republican tide of 1974, winning a special election in February 1974 to replace the incumbent Republican who died in late 1973. His margin of victory was only 242 votes, but it was the first clear indication that America really wanted to be rid of Richard Nixon.

Later that year, Murtha was joined in the House by two other Vietnam veterans, Democrat Tom Harkin of Iowa and Republican Larry Pressler of South Dakota. Both went on to serve in the Senate. Harkin is still there.

Pressler and Murtha both were offered bribes by undercover FBI agents in the 1980 ABSCAM investigations. They both turned down the bribes, but Pressler reported the offer to the FBI. Murtha, on the other hand, indicated that he was interested in future offers.

He supported Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination in 2008, then supported Barack Obama in the general election campaign.

The western Pennsylvania district that Murtha represented in the House for 36 years was represented by Republicans for more than 30 years before Murtha was elected; it tended to be more Democratic than the rest of the country in presidential elections after he became its congressman, but it had the distinction of voting for Democrat John Kerry in 2004 and then supporting Republican John McCain four years later, both times by relatively narrow margins.

It will be interesting now to see which way the district goes with a vacancy to fill. After winning the special election, Murtha never received less than 58% of the popular vote and usually got more than 60%.

Was that due to his personal popularity or did it reflect a genuine shift to the left in his constituents?

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