Opinion: The Murtha House race: Can Republicans turn Tim Burns into the next Scott Brown?


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Stand by for the next Scott Brown.

Between now and May 18 you are likely to hear much more about someone named Tim Burns.

Quietly in recent days influential Republicans led by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have been laying out a strategic campaign to nationalize the as-yet little-known special election for a House seat in Pennsylvania’s 12th district.

Hmm, special election. Sound familiar? Massachusetts. January. Barack Obama desperately campaigning for Democrat Martha Coakley to fill the Senate seat of the late Democrat Ted Kennedy.

But, oops, in charges a little-known Republican state senator, a Washington outsider named Scott Brown riding a pickup truck and a surging national wave of anti-Obama, anti-healthcare bill support to snatch a Bay state Senate seat for the GOP for the first time in four decades.


An election that became a symbol both of hope for Republicans and trouble for....

...Democrats, who control both houses of Congress with large majorities and are still fighting. But Brown’s win ended their 60-seat Senate control.

Flash forward to May. Special election. May 18 to fill the vacant House seat of the late Democrat pork barrel powerhouse John Murtha. And here comes Tim ‘It’s Time for Real Change’ Burns, a Republican from outside Washington seeking to tap into that same anti-Obama, anti-Congress sentiment.

Here’s how Burns describes himself perfectly for this season of anti-incumbency:

My name is Tim Burns and I am NOT a politician. I don’t claim to know ‘how Washington works’ because I don’t believe that it does. I’ve never secured wasteful pork barrel spending and I don’t spend more than I have. I am a businessman, who is tired of the massive government spending, trillions of dollars of debt and the corruption in Congress. And for those who are responsible for these atrocities; it’s time to Vote Them Out. I’m not just running for US Congress, I intend to win. Join me and together we will take back this country!

If Burns becomes the latest national political focus of the anti-administration crowd’s support and money and pulls off the upset, many will see it as a further forecast of what’s coming Nov. 2 in the crucial midterm elections that will set the politcal table for the two-year run-up to 2012.

In a private newsletter to supporters earlier this week Gingrich urged donations to the Burns campaign and said:

This election can be seen as a preview for the elections in November. PA-12 is a Democratic district, but it is also very rural and culturally conservative. While it had overwhelmingly elected Democrat Jack Murtha for decades, it has rapidly turned against the Obama-Pelosi-Reid machine. President Obama’s favorability ratings are ‘upside down:’ 42% approve to 57% disapprove; The Democratic Congress’ ratings are worse: 33% approve to 65% disapprove; The Democrats’ health plan has only 30% approval. 64% disapprove; With the coal industry important to western Pennsylvania, the cap and trade energy tax is unpopular as well.

Burns is facing Mark Critz. The good news for Democrats is Critz knows Washington well. The bad news for Democrats is Critz knows Washington well.

He is, in fact, a former staffer for Murtha, which VP Joe Biden pointed out with pride during a Critz fundraiser last week. That was the day JB went against White House advice again and boldly predicted creating 200,000 new jobs next month.

Thanks for the campaign help, Joe. But Critz is now running away from the Obama administration that just helped him, telling voters in the working class district near Pittsburgh that he opposes the healthcare bill that his party’s president just spent the last year getting. He’s also claiming to be pro-gun and pro-life.

What does that tell you about the voters’ mood in the primary state that went for Hillary Clinton after Obama famously denigrated the small town folks there clinging to their guns and religion?

Gingrich observes:

Critz’s challenge is the same all Democrats will face this fall. As they try to distance themselves from the job killing policies of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid machine, they will still need to rely on the fundraising and publicity-generating capacity of the national Democratic leaders responsible for pushing and passing those deeply unpopular policies.

Polls have the race close, but noted analyst Charlie Cook thinks the district is leaning Republican this time. Mark your calendar. May 18. The top card: Tim Burns vs Mark Critz.

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-- Andrew Malcolm

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