Bill Clinton campaigns in Pa. in Murtha seat race
JOHNSTOWN, Pa.—Former President Bill Clinton sought to soothe the concerns of discontented voters in a tight special election race to replace the late Rep. John Murtha, stressing it was the Democratic nominee who could best bring more jobs to the blue-collar district.
Candidate Mark Critz, a top Murtha aide, hopes to parlay an appearance Sunday at the half-hour rally with Clinton into more votes at the polls Tuesday as the campaign against Republican businessman Tim Burns draws to a close.
Clinton's campaign stop, on the heels of U.S. Sen. Scott Brown's rally in Washington, Pa., last week with Burns, underscores the importance the national political parties have placed on the western Pennsylvania race as both sides seek momentum going into the fall's congressional midterm election.
A win for Democrats would give them fresh confidence amid sagging approval ratings. Republicans hope a victory for Burns would build on the special election win for Brown earlier this year in the contest for the Massachusetts Senate seat held by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and embolden their hopes to take control of Congress.
Clinton said the reason the race is close is that "times are tough and things are all up in the air and people are disoriented." He said sometimes people wind up voting "for the very thing they don't want."
"A lot of these people voting mad and frustrated, let me ask you, forget about politics," Clinton said at the downtown Johnstown conference center. "Remember those decisions you made in your life when you were mad? About 80 percent of the time, you made a mistake, am I right?"
Critz, 48, of Johnstown, was a longtime district aide to Murtha, who died in February of complications from gallbladder surgery.
Both parties have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising, much of it negative. Verbal sparring Sunday even touched on the estimated attendance for the Clinton rally, which was open to the public but required tickets. Critz's campaign said attendance was about 1,000 people, but Burns' campaign said 300 to 500.
Critz's camp has labeled Burns as an "out-of-touch" millionaire more concerned with tax loopholes for corporations and the rich, a portrayal Burns has said is inaccurate.
Burns, 42, of Eighty Four, is trying to label Critz as a Washington insider in lockstep with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a liberal agenda in Congress. Burns' campaign Sunday night said Critz sought support from politicians who backed the contentious health care reform bill; Critz has said he didn't support the version passed by Congress.
Burns spokesman Kent Gates also criticized Critz's backers, including Clinton, Pelosi and Vice President Joe Biden, for "working to put an end to our vital coal industry and taking away our jobs," and he called Critz "a Washington insider who says one thing here at home but will vote to raise taxes and take away our jobs in Washington."
Critz's campaign touted Sunday night that it had the support of the United Mineworkers and that the Democrat opposed cap and trade proposals. Earlier, with Clinton looking on, Critz said, "I believe my opponents are somewhat confused. I've seen (Burns') commercials, and he mentions Nancy Pelosi more than he mentions me."
Both Clinton and Murtha's widow, Joyce Murtha, who introduced the former president, invoked the late congressman's name.
"I'm just sorry that Jack's not here to see all of you today," Joyce Murtha said. "He would have loved it."
Clinton recalled golf outings with the congressman.
"He was my friend, my partner. In every encounter, he always supported me unless we played golf," Clinton said to laughs.