Longtime Rep. John Murtha is facing a serious re-election challenge from Republican Bill Russell in a Pennsylvania congressional district traditionally considered solidly Democratic.
A new poll conducted for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review shows Murtha holding only a 5-percentage-point lead over retired Army Lt. Col. Bill Russell, 46 percent to 41 percent, but 8 percent of respondents said they are still undecided and others refused to answer the poll.
Even more dire for Murtha, 54 percent of respondents said it’s time for someone else to represent them in Congress, and just 35 percent said Murtha deserves to be re-elected.
The survey was conducted on Monday, one day after Murtha said his southwestern Pennsylvania district “years ago, was really redneck.”
The remark came one week after he told a local newspaper there is “no question” western Pennsylvania is racist. He subsequently apologized.
“This is clearly a winnable race for Russell,” said Jim Lee, president of Susquehanna Polling and Research, which conducted the poll.
Russell attacked Murtha for his comments, telling Fox News: “When you have folks that are of rural persuasions that live in these areas, I think it’s a very unfair description of the people…
“We’ve had a number of calls, people saying they’re just absolutely outraged, and they are fully intending to vote against Mr. Murtha.”
Murtha, a 17-term congressman, won by more than 20 percentage points in 2006, and ran unopposed in 2004.
Russell served the U.S. in uniform for 28 years and did six tours in hostile combat zones, including Iraq and Kosovo. He was in the Pentagon when it was attacked on 9/11.
He reported having raised $2.2 million in the race and had $330,000 in cash on hand at the beginning of October, “respectable figures for a challenger to a longtime incumbent,” The Hill newspaper observed.
In remarks carried on his campaign Web site, Russell said Murtha “is using the prestige and platform of public office to make wild, reckless statements about the people he represents in Congress.
“Because the people of western Pennsylvania aren’t wholeheartedly embracing Barack Obama’s values and positions on issues like the right to life, taxes and the 2nd Amendment doesn’t make us racist. That’s the cheapest of cheap shots.”
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