NPR logo Murtha Special Election Likely To Be May 18

Murtha Special Election Likely To Be May 18

The special election to replace Rep. John Murtha (D-PA 12), who died yesterday, is likely to take place the same day as the regular Pennsylvania primaries this year, on May 18.

Murtha, who was 77 and the longest serving House member in commonwealth history, died following complications from gall bladder surgery.

The district is considered Democratic but socially conservative. (Murtha famously said in 2008 that it was "racist.") In the 2000 redistricting, many Republican voters were taken out of the 12th District and placed in the 18th CD, which wound up benefiting Rep. Tim Murphy (R). It certainly didn't harm Murtha. But some in the GOP think they have a shot at taking the 12th, the only district in the country won by John Kerry in 2004 that John McCain carried four years later.

Some Republicans are talking about another run by retired Army Lt. Col. William Russell, who received 42 percent against Murtha in 2008. In that race, Murtha was under assault for his ties to The PMA Group, which was being investigated about alleged illegal contributions to (and questionable earmark projects by) the congressman. While 58 percent of the vote would ordinarily be welcomed by many incumbents, it was Murtha's poorest showing since 1974.

Also running on the GOP side is businessman Tim Burns. Democratic names mentioned include state Sen. John Wozniak and former Lt. Gov. Mark Singel. As we saw with the special elections in upstate New York, this race will draw national attention as well.

Political handicapper Charlie Cook calls the seat a "toss up":

It is too early to have much of an idea as to how each party's primary field will shape up. But this district has steadily been moving away from Democrats, and Republicans will likely look to other names besides [Russell].

As far as replacing Murtha on the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Pentagon budget, that's likely to go to Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington.

Trivia: Reader Tom Kuffel of Spring Valley, Ill., reminds us that Murtha was the first Vietnam veteran elected to Congress, and then he posts this question: When was the last presidental election in which both major candidates had no active military experience? Answer: 1944, between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Thomas Dewey.