Murtha's Anti-War Role Could Imperil Him at Home

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Rep. John Murtha (D.-Pa.) appears to be suffering "Daschle-itis," a figurative disease which makes entrenched incumbents become national celebrities and, in the process, risk alienating the voters that put them in office.

Since seizing his party’s anti-war mantle, Murtha has become a great draw for Democratic fundraisers, helping his party boost its prospects for a congressional takeover. Naturally, this helps his party-leadership bid as well.

But at the same time, his outspokenness made him a huge target for the Internet right. His district went for John Kerry with only 51% in 2004. What originally seemed like a long-shot bid by Diana Irey (R.) to unseat Murtha has taken on new credibility as she raises money from the Internet and as Murtha makes more and more outrageous statements.

Murtha’s opposition to the war has never been the real issue. He was misquoted stating that the U.S. is the greatest danger to world peace, but the misquote went unchallenged for days, and it was quite believable that he would say such a thing. It looked like another potentially dangerous venture into the great left. Even more offensive were his statements condemning Marines who allegedly participated in a massacre in Iraq, which gave no regard to the presumption of innocence or the existence of evidence (the Marines involved maintain their innocence).

In fact, by stating that he had high-level confirmation that a massacre occurred, Murtha may have set a trap for himself. As the court martial begins, he is likely to be subpoenaed in the pre-trial hearings to testify to allegations of inappropriate command influence on the trial. He risks having his high-level sources of information exposed, or exposed as flimsy — or even non-existent.

Irey, who looks quite young, is a bit green, but her handlers see her as great raw material. She has scored a series of unopposed television appearances on Fox News that have helped her raise money, and her message could resonate in what has always been a conservative Democratic district. Murtha was previously known as a pro-life, pro-gun Democrat. He received biennial votes for speaker from Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), who, until this year, had refused to support any candidate for the position who was pro-choice on abortion. Leaning Democratic Retention.

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