Congressman John Patrick “Jack” Murtha, Jr., died on February 8, 2010, nine months before his current term in the House was due to expire.
On May 18, 2010, a Special Election – to elect someone to complete Murtha’s term, and a Primary Election to pick the candidates for the November 2010 election, were held on the same day.
In advance of May 18, a PSRP meeting was held to choose its candidate for the Special Election ballot. The Penn Patriot Blog described the field of competitors at the time:
“On the Republican side local county committees will choose their candidate. Right now the favorite would have to be Bill Russell. A former Iraq War veteran who was defeated by Murtha in 2008. Other names have been floated around such as state Rep. Dave Reed, state Sen. Kim Ward, state Rep. Jeff Pyle and the 2006 GOP nominee and former Washington County Commissioner Diana L. Irey. All of which would have to quickly make a power play to wrestle the nomination away from Russell.
There is no doubt that Russell is sitting in the driver’s seat. He has already announced his candidacy and has been raising money for his campaign. In fact, Russell was out raising Murtha. Russell reported an impressive total of $2,865,593 raised through Dec. 31, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.
That dollar amount alone makes Russell the front runner. GOP county committee members who are even thinking about choosing another candidate over Russell to run in the special election risk losing this race for the GOP.
Russell is the right kind of candidate to serve the constituents of the 12 District. Even going head to head with Murtha last time he held Murtha to 58 percent of the vote. The lowest total since Murtha first ran in 1974. Like Murtha, Russell is a military veteran. The 12th District has a high number of WW II and Vietnam veterans that will most likely vote for him.”
The PSRP establishment picked businessman Tim Burns to represent the Party in the Special Election. Burns had co-founded, and eventually sold, TechRx – a pharmaceutical technology company.
In the Special Election on May 18, Burns was defeated by the Democrat candidate, Mark Critz, a former Murtha aide. Critz completed Murtha’s term and was the incumbent for the November election.
At the polls, the official Republican establishment position was to “Vote for Tim Burns twice”, as if Burns was the endorsed candidate in both races. That was not accurate, but the party establishment worked hard to send the message that Burns was the only approved Republican candidate.
Luksik states that, “They did not want Bill. Period. End.”
In the November election, Critz beat Burns 52.6% – 45.1%.
After Burn’s defeat, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a top leader in the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), was referenced in an NBC News article:
“National Republicans pumped more than $1 million into the race for the late Rep. John Murtha’s seat in western Pennsylvania – in the hopes of sending a message about the GOP’s ability to compete in the kinds of districts they’ll need to take back the majority. What they got for their money was a big disappointment: An eight-point loss yesterday that’s sending Democrat Mark Critz to Congress, despite Republican confidence going into the special election. On ABC/Washington Post’s “Top Line” today, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who’s in charge of candidate recruitment for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the loss by Republican Tim Burns is prompting a reexamination by GOP leaders about how they approach races, plus an “audit” of what went wrong.”
What went wrong? At a minimum, the Pennsylvania State Republican Party picked the wrong horse for the race.
Tim Burns ran an abbreviated campaign, from October 2011 to February 2012, as a candidate for the G.O.P. nomination to oppose then- and still-incumbent Democrat U.S. Senator Bob Casey. Burns has yet to run again for public office.
Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel William “Bill” Russell now lives in Florida.