PA-12: Irey vs. Murtha

When Rep. John Murtha (D.-Pa.) had his now-celebrated exchange with Republican colleague Jean Schmidt of Ohio last November over whether the U.S. should pull out of Iraq, one of his constituents sat down with her husband and three children.

“I was very upset by what he was saying because I felt very strongly we are at war, we’re there in Iraq, and we need to win in order to complete the mission,” recalled Washington County (Pa.) Commissioner Diana Irey, “So I asked my family whether they felt I should run against him or not. They all agreed that I should.”

By May, West Virginia Business College graduate and three-term Commissioner Ivey had wrapped up the nomination against an incumbent who had not faced a serious GOP challenge since he first won his seat in a special election in 1974. She raised more than $300,000 from all 50 states —much of it coming from Irey’s fellow conservatives angry at Murtha for his new role as cheerleader for an “exit strategy.”

Although their differences on the war fuel their increasingly intense competition, Irey slams Murtha (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 33%) on other issues that, in her words, “we’re only starting to pay attention to and grow upset over” because of the Democrat’s recent high profile.

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Murtha, for example, has long styled himself “pro-life.” But, as Irey pointed out, “I got a warm reception when I addressed a pro-life breakfast in Johnstown. They didn’t think his vote for federal funding of stem-cell research was pro-life.” Similarly, as the conservative hopeful blitzes the district (which includes parts of nine different counties), she draws wild cheers for spelling out how “my opponent is against tough border security and I favor a tall fence with a wide gate—let immigrants come in legally.” She also vividly contrasts her support of “cutting taxes with this President to my opponent’s voting for record tax increases with the last President.”

Inevitably, Diana Irey is asked whether the burden of taking on such an established Democratic politician is worth the long hours, the constant-fund-raising, and the skepticism about her chances from the so-called “experts.” “Yes, it is,” she replied, “and whenever I hear negativism, I just think back to our family conference and what my daughter Alexandra said when I told her I would be away from her more if I ran: ‘Mommy, our country needs you more than I do.’”