The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

October 28, 2007

Career Army man to challenge Murtha

After nearly three decades in the military, William T. Russell’s latest mission has brought him to Johnstown.

The career Army man, just two years short of retirement, has left the service and moved to the Flood City in order to mount a political campaign against veteran Democratic U.S. Rep. John Murtha.

As a Republican and first-time candidate facing a powerful congressman in the sprawling, Democrat-dominated 12th Congressional District, Russell faces a tough challenge.

But he is determined to press ahead and will formally announce his candidacy within weeks.

“I recognize this is an uphill battle,” Russell said in an interview last week at The Tribune-Democrat.

“But it’s one that must be fought.”

Murtha, who declined any comment on Russell’s candidacy when contacted through a spokesman last week, has served in the House since 1974.

The 75-year-old is known for bringing money and jobs – especially in the defense sector – to his district, and last year he became chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

But Murtha’s repeated calls for a military withdrawal from Iraq and his criticism of the Bush administration have spurred a backlash among conservatives.

Republican Diana Irey, a Washington County commissioner, tried to capitalize on that sentiment during her 2006 campaign against Murtha. But the congressman cruised to victory.

Russell, 45, is betting on a different result next year. He readily acknowledges that he moved to Johnstown from the Washington, D.C., area specifically so that he could run in the 12th District.

Murtha is a decorated Vietnam War veteran. But Russell also has extensive military credentials.

Born on an Air Force base in Newfoundland, Canada, Russell’s long Army and Army Reserve career includes duty in the Balkans and in both Iraq wars.

Russell and his wife, Kasia, were in the Pentagon when a hijacked jetliner crashed into the building on Sept. 11, 2001. They escaped unharmed.

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