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Embattled Murtha Steadfast in Southwestern Pennsylvania Rally

CALIFORNIA, Pa. — Amid growing evidence that his re-election contest is tightening, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) expressed confidence Friday about his own chances of winning re-election and praised Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), the Democratic presidential nominee.

In an appearance in his district at California University of Pennsylvania, Murtha focused his remarks on the state of the economy and emphasized the importance of his accumulated seniority for his constituents.

Against the backdrop of GOP ads targeting Murtha’s vote in favor of the financial bailout legislation, the lawmaker acknowledged it “takes time” to fix economic problems such as the current downturn. Murtha said that his manufacturing- and coal-reliant district underwent previous rounds of economic troubles and that while other regions are suffering economically, his district has had an “increase in employment” and is “ready to explode” economically.

Murtha is facing an unexpectedly strong challenge from retired Army Lt. Col. William Russell (R), who moved to the district specifically to challenge Murtha.

The tightening of the race is linked to a pair of recent comments by Murtha characterizing some of his constituents as racists and rednecks.

At his appearance today, Murtha did not mention his opponent by name.

Murtha took a shot at President Bush, saying that his father, former President George H. W. Bush, came to Congress for advice prior to the Gulf War in 1990, yet the current president “ignored Congress” — both Republicans and Democrats — until the administration needed Members to pass the recent financial rescue plan.

In an interview, Washington County Commissioner Bracken Burns (D) said Murtha’s controversial comments “would affect results” but added that he still expected the incumbent to win because of the large amount of economic development projects that Murtha has brought to the district.

Shinesa Chowdhury, who heads California University Students for Barack Obama, said her organization has registered more than 2,000 new voters for Washington County — slightly more than half of the new registered voters in the county, which presumably should help Murtha.

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