Murtha's Death Leaves a Toss Up Race, One Less Dem Health Care Vote

Rep. John Murtha's death yesterday was sobering news for his Democratic colleagues. It also leaves the party with one less vote for their health care legislation in the House and a possibly fierce fight to hold onto Pennsylvania's 12th district.

Once a congressional vacancy is declared, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has 10 days to choose a date for a special election, according to state law. The election can be no sooner than 60 days after that proclamation. Given those constraints, Rendell will probably choose to hold the special election to replace Murtha on May 18, the Washington Post reports. The state is already holding federal primaries on that date.

While Murtha hardly had any trouble in his re-election campaigns, his seat could very well go to a Republican this spring. His district was the only one in the country that voted for Democrat John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election but voted for Republican John McCain in 2008, according to the Post.

The Cook Political Report, a respected, nonpartisan newsletter, now calls the district a "toss up."

House Democrats have a five-to-one cash on hand advantage over Republicans, the Wall Street Journal notes, though they have yet to name a candidate. Politico reports that local Democratic leaders may favor state Sen. John Wozniak for the special election. Two Republicans, 2008 nominee Bill Russell and businessman Tim Burns, were already interested in challenging Murtha and may run in the special election.

Democrats, however, are interested in finishing up their health care reform legislation before May and are therefore left with one less vote in favor of their reform package. The House passed an initial version of reform by a vote of 220 to 215, leaving little room for movement. As the American Spectator reports, Democrats now appear to have only 217 "yea" votes left. The one Republican who voted for the bill, Rep. Joseph Cao (La.), has said he will not vote for the package the next time around, and Florida Rep. Robert Wexler has already retired. Though it should be noted that some Democrats who voted against the original bill could be convinced to vote for a new proposal later.

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