WASHINGTON (AP) - Rep. John Murtha brought in a high-profile adviser and scrambled to raise money to shore up support against a GOP challenger who has gained momentum since Murtha said some residents of his western Pennsylvania home base were racist.
Tony Podesta, Pennsylvania manager for Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid and former President Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election, said he drove to Murtha’s hometown of Johnstown, Pa., on Monday. He described Murtha as a friend under attack and said he offered suggestions as a volunteer.
Podesta declined comment on the details of their discussion, but said, “All of us have things we wish we would have said differently.”
If Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama wins Tuesday’s election, Podesta’s brother, John Podesta, has been tapped to lead his transition planning.
Murtha, a powerful 17-term Democrat, is being challenged by William Russell, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who moved from Virginia to Johnstown to run against him.
Murtha was considered safe for re-election until he recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “There is no question that western Pennsylvania is a racist area.” He apologized, but then later told WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh, that “this whole area, years ago, was really redneck.”
This week, Murtha _ a decorated Vietnam veteran _ sent out a fundraising appeal to the e-mail list of the liberal group MoveOn.org with the subject title “late breaking threat.” He said because of his opposition to the Iraq war, he was a victim of “swiftboating.”
“When I ask for help, it is because I really need it,” Murtha wrote.
On Wednesday, the National Republican Congressional Committee said it had funded a second TV ad highlighting Murtha’s comments. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is also running ads in support of Murtha.
“You have a situation here where you had a surge by his opponent in the final days before an election, and so it’s all hands on deck in the Murtha campaign,” said Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who chairs his party’s House campaign committee.
Associated Press writer Julie Hirschfeld Davis contributed to this report.