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Veteran Murtha rolls to victory over Irey

| Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006

JOHNSTOWN - Democratic U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha said Tuesday he plans to spend the coming weeks garnering support among colleagues to become the House majority leader, after winning an 18th term in the 12th Congressional District.

The powerful incumbent easily defeated Republican challenger, Washington County Commissioner Diana Irey, according to unofficial results for the sprawling district that includes Greene County and parts of Allegheny, Armstrong, Cambria, Fayette, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties. With 100 percent of the votes counted, Murtha was leading 61 percent to 39 percent.

Murtha, 74, a decorated Vietnam veteran who has served in the House since 1974, is seeking the majority leader's post against U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, of Maryland, the Democratic whip.

"I've been working on it. I think I'm in pretty good shape," Murtha said. "I think I have as many votes as he has at this time. I have a lot of friends, and I'm satisfied that I have a good chance at winning."

He added that he would be "a moderate leader who is able to work with the White House, Republicans and Democrats."

He counts among his close friends U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who is expected to become the next House speaker. Although Pelosi has remained neutral, she hinted in an interview with the Tribune-Review earlier this year that she'll back Murtha, who she said "has helped me a lot."

Murtha, who has called for a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq for more than a year, said voters sent a message to the Bush administration that the war cannot continue indefinitely.

"When the people speak, the president of the United States and all the rest of us listen," he said.

Murtha monitored election returns in his campaign headquarters with his wife, Joyce, while staffers and dozens of volunteers two floors above jostled plates of sandwiches and cookies, breaking out into loud applause as results were broadcast on televisions.

The loss was a devastating blow to Irey, who believed until the end that she'd win the duel between "Diana and Goliath" by a narrow margin. Irey, a staunch advocate for staying the course in Iraq, ran a negative campaign attacking Murtha's personal character, professional record and position on the war.

Neither Irey nor her campaign manager, Jason Davidek, answered phone calls or responded to messages. But several days earlier, Irey expressed her gratitude to campaign volunteers and supporters.

"I am very grateful and humbled by the voters who were willing to support me," said Irey, 44, a married mother of three who has served as a Washington County commissioner since 1995.

Murtha said lawmakers should craft an agenda that includes immediate redeployment of American troops in Iraq.

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