Gov. Ed Rendell (D) has set the special election to fill the late Rep. John Murtha’s (D-Pa.) seat to coincide with the state’s previously scheduled primaries on May 18 — a boost to Keystone State Democrats, who already have two competitive statewide contests on the same day.
Murtha’s death sets up a competitive race in the conservative-leaning southwestern 12th district, and several candidates have already declared their campaigns. Local party officials from both parties will pick their respective nominees at conferences in the next several weeks.
Democrats have focused for the most part on the Congressman’s widow, Joyce Murtha, who has confirmed through her late husband’s spokesman that she was considering a bid. Other prominent Democrats looking at running have confirmed their interest, but Joyce Murtha is likely to clear the field if she decides to run.
Former Lt. Gov. Mark Singel (D) said in a phone interview that he was interested in the race but was “inclined to defer” to Joyce Murtha. Former state Treasurer Barbara Hafer (D), a former Republican, has told reporters that she will pursue the seat but also cautioned that she would defer to Joyce Murtha.
Westmoreland County Commissioner Tom Ceraso (D) has also expressed interest and met with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, according to a source familiar with the meeting. Navy veteran Ryan Bucchianeri (D) announced he was running much earlier this cycle. Both Ceraso and Bucchianeri, however, are not considered to be a top-tier contenders for the seat.
Republicans, meanwhile, might end up with the two candidates already in the race — neither of whom were hailed by national Republicans as top recruits earlier this cycle. Bill Russell is running for a second time after losing to Murtha by 16 points in 2008. Republicans are more optimistic about local businessman Tim Burns, who could throw some of his personal wealth into the race. State Rep. Dave Reed (R) has also expressed interest in the race, but he has yet to make any kind of official move toward running.