by David Croyle
Harrisburg is talking about last night’s cable show in Kittanning where the Republican candidate for the 12th Congressional District accused the state Republican Party chairman of collusion.
Bill Russell ran two years ago against John Murtha in his last election in 2008, raising $3.6 million and earning an impressive 42 percent of the vote. Following his loss, Russell announced he would run against him again.
Since Murtha’s unexpected death on February 8, a special election will now be held simultaneously with the Primary on May 18. However, while Russell is already on the Republican ticket for the May primary, Republican insiders rejected him as their candidate to run against Murtha staffer Democrat Mark Critz of Johnstown in the special election. Although Russell already has a district-wide organization in place and excellent name recognition from his last campaign, the GOP conferees voted by a 2-1 margin for Tim Burns from Eighty Four, Pennsylvania in Washington County to run in the special election.
Russell, appearing on Family-Life TV’s Talk of the Town, criticized state Republican Chairman Rob Gleason.
“Unfortunately we’ve got a state Republican chairman who has a direct conflict of interest and really had no interest in, one, either defeating Jack Murtha when he was in Congress or, two, in taking that seat,” Russell said, referring to Gleason’s ownership of an insurance agency. “His direct personal interest is in keeping that the status quo. The direct financial interest is the fact that his insurance company writes the insurance policies for many of the companies Mr. Murtha used to bring in, and he has a vested interest in keeping the status quo for that. It is really unfortunate because, one, he has a vested financial interest in going against the Republican party, two, in a recent news interview, he attacked me for doing too well in the 2008 election because that caused Jack to bring out the Democratic forces including Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton for six calls, Barak Obama. With the turnout of the Democratic electorate to save Mr. Murtha’s seat, he says that actually led him to lose a state legislature seat. So he was angry with me for doing too well against Mr. Murtha.”
D. Patrick Mahoney in The Washington Times yesterday also criticized Gleason and conferees, alleging Burns’ financial fortune that tops nine figures will enable him to self-fund his campaign and also contribute to other campaigns as well.
“It’s an unfortunate reality of what’s going on. As unhappy as people may be about what is going on in Washington, we can’t change things in Washington if we don’t first change the way we do things here in Pennsylvania. With the populist support I have had, I was 30 points ahead in the polls in the Republican running, I’m the largest non-incumbent fund raiser in the nation, but yet they chose somebody else with a 7% name recognition.”
Because the special election will be held at the same time as the state’s Primary election, it will be possible for Burns to actually win and occupy the seat from May until November while Russell winning the Republican nod. If Russell wins the Primary and also the General election in November, he could still become the 12th Congressional District’s choice.
Russell, a retired 82nd Airborne officer and Iraq War veteran, seemed undaunted by the politics surrounding the special election.
“My focus right now is running in the Primary and winning the November election,” Russell said.