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Pennsylvania Congressman Tim Murphy to resign amid marital scandal

| Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, 4:27 p.m.
U.S. Rep. Murphy of Upper St. Clair sent  a letter announcing his resignation, effective Oct. 21, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced.
U.S. Rep. Murphy of Upper St. Clair sent a letter announcing his resignation, effective Oct. 21, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced.

U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy announced Thursday that he is resigning from Congress in the wake of a marital scandal in which the pro-life Republican reportedly asked his mistress to get an abortion.

House Speaker Paul Ryan announced the resignation in a three-sentence statement. Ryan said he received a letter from Murphy indicating that he would resign effective Oct. 21.

“It was Dr. Murphy's decision to move on to the next chapter of his life, and I support it,” Ryan said in the statement. “We thank him for his many years of tireless work on mental health issues here in Congress and his service to the country as a naval reserve officer.”

Murphy did not return messages left on his cellphone.

The Upper St. Clair Republican had said Wednesday that he planned to serve the rest of his term but would not seek re-election next year. He is in his eighth term representing a district that includes Allegheny, Westmoreland, Washington and Greene counties.

Murphy will become the first Pennsylvania congressman to resign since former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Philadelphia, stepped down in June 2016 after being convicted on racketeering, fraud and other corruption charges. In addition to Murphy, three other incumbents in Pennsylvania's Republican congressional delegation appear to be on their way out as U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent has said he is not seeking re-election, U.S. Rep. Tom Marino has been nominated to be the nation's next drug czar and U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta plans to run for U.S. Senate.

Murphy's resignation sets in motion a special election process to fill the seat Murphy plans to vacate. Under state law, Gov. Tom Wolf must formally notify county election boards in the 18th congressional district of the vacancy within 10 days and then must schedule a special election at least 60 days after the notification. The special election could be put on the same ballot as the May 15 primary, according to the law.

The Democratic and Republican parties will select nominees to appear on the special election ballot.

Murphy ran unopposed in the last two elections. Even before he announced he wouldn't run in 2018, at least three Democrats said they planned to campaign for the 18th district seat. The Democrats are Pam Iovino, who served in the Navy and then in the Department of Veterans Affairs; Mike Crossey, a retired teacher and Allegheny County councilman; and emergency physician Bob Solomon.

This week's news will likely draw more Democrats to the race, said Mike Mikus, a Democratic political consultant who lives in South Fayette Township.

“I expect there are going to be quite a few people looking at this seat, and you're likely to see in upcoming days additional people who decide to take a run at this seat,” Mikus said.

Fifty-eight percent of voters in the deeply Republican district voted for Donald Trump in 2016, with 39 percent voting for Hillary Clinton, according to Cook Political Report figures.

Several Republicans have already expressed interest in replacing Murphy. State Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, of Jefferson Hills, and state Sen. Kim Ward, of Hempfield Township, have announced they are running for the seat. State Sen. Rick Saccone of Elizabeth Township and Rep. Jason Ortitay of South Fayette have said they are considering running.

Democrats stand a better chance of winning the seat than they did a week ago, but it's still a long shot, said Chris Borick, a professor of political science at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

“In reality, if (Murphy) was the incumbent and was on the ballot without the problems that have emerged over the last few days, I don't think that seat's one the Democrats are really optimistic about. Now they have reason for more optimism,” Borick said.

Mikus said the large number of registered Democrats in the region, combined with vote tallies for Democrats in downballot races, suggest a Democrat could win.

Westmoreland County Commissioner Gina Cerilli, a Hempfield Democrat, said she is “highly considering running” for Murphy's seat and formed an exploratory committee to gauge interest. She expects to make a decision in the next week.

Iovino and Crossey each said in interviews that the two issues voters have said they care most about are jobs and health care.

Each said they plan to run the same campaigns they would have against Murphy.

Mark Harris, a spokesman for Reschenthaler, said he expects the Iraq War veteran's military service and his conservative voting record will carry a lot of weight with voters. He said he doesn't think Murphy's resignation will influence voters.

“The folks of this district deserve to have a representative they can trust to fight for our beliefs and values in Washington, D.C. I know we can do better,” Ward said in a statement.

Murphy, 65, admitted last month to having an extramarital affair with a friend. The affair became an issue in the ongoing divorce case of Murphy's mistress, Shannon Edwards, 33, and Jesse Sally, 36, both of Pittsburgh.

In a court order last month, Murphy was directed to produce a record of communications he shared with Edwards, including emails and text messages. Murphy reportedly asked Edwards to get an abortion when he thought she was pregnant, according to one text message; she turned out not to be. Murphy claimed in another text that he never personally wrote the anti-abortion messages he delivered at annual March for Life rallies in Washington. Rather, he said staffers did and he “winced” upon reading them.

Murphy received sharp criticism from pro-life groups that had supported him over the years, including Southwestern Pennsylvania's LifePAC.

“We expected better of him,” LifePAC Secretary Mary Lou Gartner told the Tribune-Review.

Gerald Shuster, a political communication professor at the University of Pittsburgh, described Murphy's hypocrisy on the abortion issue as a fatal political blow.

“Had he only had the affair, people might have gotten over it,” Shuster said. “Anyone who knew anything about what he espoused politically or at least publicly on abortion was never going to get over this.”

Hours before news of Murphy's resignation broke, Shuster predicted that the scandal would make it impossible for Murphy to effectively serve out his term.

“Who in Congress now is going to feel that he has any modicum of credibility whatsoever? No one,” Shuster said. “He'll be wasting his time sitting in that seat.”

Wes Venteicher and Tom Fontaine are Tribune-Review staff writers. Staff writer Ben Schmitt contributed.

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