The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

October 4, 2008

Murtha’s dominance: Congressman impervious to challenges, controversies

There is no doubt that U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Johnstown, has a big statistical edge in this year’s election: Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin in his 12th Congressional District.

In addition, Democrat-heavy Cambria County is Murtha’s home turf.

But there are statistics that paint a more telling picture of Murtha’s dominance – a long list of election returns.

An analysis of those numbers shows a politician who – from his early years in Washington to the present – has been nearly unstoppable at the polls. Even during times of controversy or scandal, Murtha historically has been a sure thing when November rolls around.

That long-term invincibility could not have been forecasted in early 1974.

In fact, when Murtha first took his congressional seat in February of that year, he was not even sure he should be in Washington.

Murtha, a state representative and car-wash owner who had lost badly in his first bid for a congressional seat six years before, ran in a special election after the death of longtime Republican U.S. Rep. John P. Saylor.

Murtha appeared to have beaten Republican Harry M. Fox by a narrow margin, but a recount was continuing even as he took his oath of office.

Eventually, the final vote tally was decided: Murtha was the victor by a mere 122 votes out of 120,954 total votes cast.

Dominating run

Since that election, no political opponent has come close to defeating the congressman.

He had to run again in 1974 to retain his seat, and Murtha bested Fox by 24,777 votes in that year’s general election. He gained 58 percent of the vote.

Statistics from that election onward show a congressional stalwart whose career has never faltered despite shifting political winds over three-plus decades:

nMurtha has faced general-election opposition 14 times.

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