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Murtha's widow won't run, but former district director will

| Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010

John Murtha's widow won't run for his congressional seat, but his former district director in Johnstown will.

The Murtha for Congress Committee said Monday that Joyce Murtha decided not to seek the Democratic nomination to finish her husband's term through the end of the year. A special election to fill the seat will be held May 18.

Murtha, who represented the district for 36 years, died Feb. 8 from complications arising from gallbladder surgery. Democratic leaders had said they would draft Joyce Murtha for the job, if she were interested.

"She feels that it is too soon after his death to be on the campaign trail," the committee's statement said.

Political analyst Isaac Wood of the University of Virginia said that without Joyce Murtha in the race, the election could be intriguing.

"It appears that the intrigue, however, will be in the Democratic primary and not in the general election, at least not yet," he said.

Murtha's district director, Mark Critz, used an old technology to enter the race: his answering machine.

Critz's voice mail message on his personal cell phone says: "Hello, this is Mark Critz and you have reached my personal cell phone. Yes, I am running to be the next congressman representing the 12th District of Pennsylvania. And I need your vote. And I need your support."

Critz resigned his position as director yesterday afternoon but was unavailable for comment.

"Ethics rules mandate that we are not allowed to participate in political activities while in this office and therefore I must embark on my new adventure," Critz said in an e-mail statement. He said he planned to formally announce his candidacy.

Cambria County Controller Ed Cernic Jr. said yesterday he plans to seek the Democratic nomination for the seat. He joins former Lt. Gov. Mark Singel, former state Treasurer and Auditor General Barbara Hafer, Navy veteran Ryan Bucchianeri and Air Force veteran Ron Mackell Jr. in the race.

"The real race on the Democratic side looks to be between Mark Singel and Barbara Hafer," Wood said. Singel and Hafer have long political histories in Pennsylvania, which produces a loyal following but also the possibility of political enemies and personal baggage.

"With the very compressed election schedule, it would be hard for a little-known candidate to overtake these front-runners, but special elections are often lessons in unpredictability," Wood said.

Republicans seeking the office include Johnstown-area businessman Tim Burns and the 2008 GOP nominee, retired Army officer William Russell.

According to state party rules, Republicans will pick their nominee at a meeting March 11 at St. Vincent College in Latrobe.

"The GOP should be very comfortable competing in a true battleground district after winning a stunning victory in very unfriendly territory in Massachusetts," Wood said, but he noted that Republicans do have a losing streak of nine straight in House special elections.

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