More than 50 members of Congress have gathered in Johnstown, Pa., to pay their last respects to John Murtha, the veteran Democratic representative who died last week. They were joined by former President Bill Clinton (just out of the hospital), CIA Director (and former House colleague) Leon Panetta, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (also an ex-colleague), and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Some members of Congress, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, flew into the John P. Murtha Airport and, as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, they "traveled past defense plants the congressman brought into his hometown as chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee."
With Murtha gone, some of his colleagues fretted what would happen without him. "We've lost our 800-pound gorilla," said Rep. Mike Doyle (D). Added Rep. Jason Altmire (D), "It's incalculable, the loss." Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an anti-war Democrat from Ohio, talked about how important it was for his side when Murtha, a former hawk, broke with President Bush's Iraq war policy in 2005.
One big-name Democrat has jumped into the special election to replace Murtha, which is expected to coincide with the regular Pa. primary on May 18. Barbara Hafer, a former state auditor general and state treasurer, announced her candidacy for the vacant 12th Congressional District seat. Hafer, the unsuccessful GOP nominee for governor in 1990 against the late Gov. Bob Casey, said the only thing that would deter her from running was if Murtha's widow, Joyce Murtha, got in the race.
Other Democrats considering running include former Lt. Gov. Mark Singel, state Sen. John Wozniak and Westmoreland County Commissioner Tom Ceraso.
Retired Army Lt. Col. William Russell, who held Murtha to 58 percent of the vote in 2008, and businessman Tim Burns are already seeking the GOP nomination. But more prominent Republicans might get in the race if they see it as winnable.
But for what purpose? Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Salena Zito reports that the district could be eliminated in the next round of redistricting, thanks for Pennsylvania's slow population growth:
Pennsylvania is expected to be one of nine states to lose a congressional seat — Ohio would lose two — based on census estimates. The Keystone State is expected to send only 18 representatives to the House after 2010 Census results are used to redraw boundaries in 2011. ...
Larry Ceisler, a Philadelphia consultant for Democrats, said the biggest reason for the party to nominate Joyce Murtha is that the seat probably will disappear, especially if a Republican wins the governor's race and the GOP takes control of the state House and Senate.
"Then she is the logical choice," Ceisler said. "There is no reason any rational Democrat or Republican candidate, with all of the competitive seats in this state, should waste money or resources running for a seat that will probably be eliminated."
The current makeup of the House is 255 Democrats, 178 Republicans, with two Democratic vacancies: PA 12 and FL 19 (Robert Wexler resigned).