Taking Murtha Down?

After Democratic Congressman John Murtha’s controversial comments about his southwestern Pennsylvania District — in which he called the voters “racists” and “rednecks” — his Republican opponent, William Russell, has been gaining ground in the race.

Voters are beginning to realize that the longtime congressman does not share their values, says Russell.

“What Mr. Murtha did was attribute the lowest possible motivations to our voters,” he says. “The people in this area tend to vote their values. To say that they are simply racist because they won’t vote for Obama overlooks the fact that Senator Obama has an almost radical pro-abortion platform, as well as a very anti-gun platform. This shows that Murtha has clearly lost touch with the voters.”

Russell, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, says this isn’t the first time Murtha has outraged his constituents. In 2005, Murtha, a former Marine, called for an immediate and complete troop withdrawal from Iraq. Two years ago, he called U.S. Marines accused of killing civilians in the Iraqi city of Haditha “cold-blooded murderers.”

“The most vehemently anti-Murtha people I meet are Marines,” Russell says. “They believe he threw them under the bus with his Haditha comments. Overall, veterans have been very, very positive toward me.” He estimates that 90 percent of veterans in the district will choose him over Murtha.

Russell’s campaign has also questioned what Murtha has done to help the economically depressed area, despite securing hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks.

“After 35 years of earmarks — earmarks that have hurt business development here — our biggest export is our adult children,” Russell says, adding that Murtha has voted against coal development in the region.

Russell also says the Murtha campaign has engaged in voter intimidation.

“Back in the early part of my campaign, when I was doing ballot petitions, I had about 15 people tell me ‘Look, I can vote for you, but I can’t sign your petition or donate to your campaign because I or my wife will get fired,’” Russell says. “People were afraid to sign public documents for fear of retribution.”

Once considered a long-shot candidate, some polls now have Russell neck-and-neck with Murtha.

“We did some internal polls that indicated we were running at the 50 percent mark,” he says. “After Murtha’s comments, polls — particularly the Susquehanna poll — started coming up with very similar numbers. A poll that Michelle Malkin broke showed us in the lead.”

On Election Day, Russell says, Murtha’s biggest obstacle will be the fact that “he stepped away from the values of this district.”