October 16th, 2008
11:17 AM ET
13 years ago

Murtha apologizes for calling Western Pennsylvania ‘racist’

(CNN) - Rep. John Murtha, a supported of Barack Obama’s presidential bid, apologized Thursday for calling western Pennsylvania “a racist area.”

“While we cannot deny that race is a factor in this election, I believe we’ve been able to look beyond race these past few months, and that voters today are concerned with the policy differences of our two candidates and their vision for the future of our great country,” he said, in a statement issued by his office.

“Senator Obama has shown sound judgment and has presented us with a change from the failed policies of George Bush and John McCain. I believe he will win both Pennsylvania and the White House.”

Murtha’s apology came after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette posted a story on its Web site Wednesday which quotes the veteran Democratic congressman as saying, "no question that western Pennsylvania is a racist area," and predicting that those attitudes could cost the Illinois senator on Election Day.

In a statement later that day, a Murtha spokesman defended the remarks, telling the Associated Press that "It's naive to think that race or gender doesn't play a role in a voter's perception of a candidate.”

Obama has struggled to connect with rural Pennsylvanians for much of the campaign. His infamous “bitter” comments - about residents of some of the state’s small towns - became a rallying cry for primary rival Hillary Clinton, who took that contest by a nearly double-digit margin.

In recent weeks, a YouTube video of labor leader Richard Trumka describing a racist reaction to Obama he encountered on a trip back to his western Pennsylvania hometown has become an Internet sensation.

"Our kids are moving away because there's no future here," Trumka says in a widely-circulated clip of his speech to United Steelworkers convention this year. "And here's a man, Barack Obama, who's going to fight for people like us, and you won't vote for him because of the color of his skin? Are you out of your ever-loving mind?"

The battleground state has not backed a Republican presidential candidate in two decades. Obama currently leads John McCain by 12 points – 52 to 40 percent – in the most recent CNN poll of polls out of Pennsylvania. Eight percent of the state’s likely voters remain unsure of their presidential pick.

soundoff (193 Responses)
  1. CindyN--PA

    Again this statement is true. I live in Western PA and I for one can testifty that there is still a lot of racism in this state. I have co-workers that flat out say they will not vote for a black man. Shamelessly so.
    I'm not saying that PA wont go Blue, but that comment is true, and if you live here in Western PA, you better believe it.
    Here is my take. You've got the City of Erie, the City of Pittsburgh and the City of Philadelphia that votes Democratic. For the rest of the state, it seems to sway red. That's why we nickname the mid section of the state Pennsyl~Tucky.

    I'm from Pennsyl~Tucky. So I should know.

    October 16, 2008 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  2. Connie, FL

    LOL, so they can be racist, they just don't want to be called racist. I get it.

    Murtha can take it back but it's probably true. Western PA is probably racist, but the irony is, the very same people they continue to vote for, like Republicans help themselves, and not the people who need it.

    New Flash: Nothing trickles down. That is a lie that has been told since Reagan. In the words of Dr. Phil "How's that working for ya?".

    October 16, 2008 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  3. Purple Nurple

    Man, I wish people would just drop the race thing. I support Obama, but calling part of our country that is NOT helping our cause Murtha!!
    I must say that John did his best out the the 3 debates last night. Obama also did his usual, keeping to the issues and kept the petty stuff to a minum unlike John McCain. Anyway, still waiting for NOV 4th baby to cast my vote for Obama. Almost there fellow supporters...oh I meant Obamabots!!!!!!

    October 16, 2008 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  4. Gia

    It's absolutely true that Western PA is racist. I'm from Philly – South Philly – and even here it's not as pervasive as it is out in the tiny little burbs like Bethlehem, where the yokels were dumb enough to tell the cameras that Obama is a terrorist, a Muslim, an Arab and where more than one stuffed monkey with Obama's name across it has appeared.

    We have a saying here in PA. You have Philly on one side, Pittsburgh on the other, and Alabama in the middle. The racists at PA's McCain rallies prove that to be true.

    October 16, 2008 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  5. Rob Johnson

    Considering that cockiness and arrogance have been weaknesses of Obama in the past, this sounds like he is learning from his mistakes.

    A President who learns from his mistakes and doesn't repeat them? What a wonderful world that would be to live in!

    McCain may be older and have more experience, but Obama is clearly the mature adult in this race. Last night's debate is proof.

    October 16, 2008 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  6. Mark, Cleveland Ohio

    Time for Obama's political supporters to use some common-sense in their comments starting now, otherwise it will come back to bite them (and Obama)..

    October 16, 2008 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  7. JTSpangler

    Is it racist to harbor negative feelings toward AAs when an overwhelming percentage of your experiences with them and their subculture have been negative? Prejudiced to be sure, but irrational?

    October 16, 2008 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  8. White person in Virginia

    It's more believable when a comment like this comes from another white person's mouth. If it were a black person saying this, he or she would accused of using the "Race Card".

    October 16, 2008 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  9. sglman4Obama

    Why apologize, he didn't lie. Western PA is a one large hick town! No black person would be caught living in those Appilachian foothills and expect to survice. Pennsylvania has more secret racist societies than Alabama or Georgia. Us smart afro-americans live here in SE PA where it friendly diverse and safe. Heck even Pittsburgh is more diverse that the corner of this state! YIKES!

    October 16, 2008 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  10. MG

    I'm not too sure Rep. Murtha is that far off.

    I am a married with kids, live in your average suburb, work for a small, local, employee-owned company. Just your average 40-something white woman....except I live in Idaho, which is mostly republican. So far, I have had 2 Obama signs stolen, a third one spray-painted with the "N" word, and one lit on fire in my yard. I have lost friends because they said that given the choice of defacing/burning the sign or stealing it, they would rather deface it. Not to mention the sideways comments.

    I never knew all of these people I have lived near and worked with for years were this way. I am saddened by it and pray for them to replace their hate with love, regardless of political views.

    On the good side, I have had many people whisper to me when no one was looking that they are voting for Obama, and asked me not to say something...a glimmer of hope.

    October 16, 2008 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  11. Chris from STL

    List of MORONS who can't keep their mouth shut .... and likes to blabber to get headlines ...

    Mr. Murtha
    Rev. Jackson

    Please add to the list of Morons ....

    October 16, 2008 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  12. voter

    why is Murtha apologizing? He is correct that there are some rural areas that will not vote for a bi-racial candidate. There is nothing wrong with being honest.

    October 16, 2008 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  13. TAYO, NY

    Apology accepted. at any rate, Its Rep Murtha that sound racist to in the first place.

    Let stop invoking the notion of race in this election.


    October 16, 2008 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  14. J - East Windsor, CT

    Tasteless, but true.

    October 16, 2008 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  15. Jack

    Way to go Murtha, you idiot. You spoke from your heart just like Obama did when he said we cling to guns and religion.

    October 16, 2008 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  16. EJ

    As 60 year old white male, living in North West Florida, I believe racism is real and will show it's ugly head in the voting booth. When you hear the N word in social gatherings, among so called educated whites, educators, business professional ect. As someone that lived in North western PA. I can say it is not much different than in NW Florida. Even thought Senator Obama may have a lead in the poles, I fear it will not translate to votes behind the confines of the voting booth and that will be a shame for America.

    PS Joe Scarborough I feel knows this, been around this and should express this-on his show.

    October 16, 2008 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  17. Praetorian

    Oh that's no problem Mr. Murtha. Americans have come to expect no less from our current Democratically controlled Congress.

    October 16, 2008 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  18. Mary

    Murtha is a MORON!

    October 16, 2008 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  19. The Patriot

    OK, so if Obama loses it is because of racism? Or is it because some don't think he is ready to be POTUS?

    October 16, 2008 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  20. ginny

    The vibes I get from McCain ;

    he can't take criticism and is easy to get
    angry/hot headed..yes like Bush; I would not want to see
    this type of person in the White House again nor a woman as
    VP; especially someone like Sarah Palin; she too gives me
    the same vibes. Now someone like Madeline Allbright; Yes

    October 16, 2008 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  21. Nelson Colorado Springs Co

    Calling western Pennsylvania “a racist area.” or any part of America that is wrong. But Race will be a factor, lot of American want or will not vote for Sen Obama/Biden ticket because of Sen Obama Skin color this is true and wrong, without even thinking of what Sen Obama/Biden can do for this country. it has happen before to people of color or Black People this is so wrong. This is America get out and VOTE. Go Obama/Biden

    October 16, 2008 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  22. John

    Sad, but true!!

    October 16, 2008 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  23. Kristina, Seattle

    Oh please. If it walks like a duck...

    October 16, 2008 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  24. JED

    I'm glad Rep. Murtha apologized for this. I voted for Alan Keyes for president but will not vote for Mr. Obama. That has nothing to do with race, but of ideology. Is there any respect given to both President Bush 's for recognizing the personal achievements of Colin Powell, Hon. Clarence Thomas, Condeleza Rice and appointing them to these positions of prestige.

    October 16, 2008 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  25. Doug D

    Oh goodie, more Democrats defending a Democrat blunder ....

    If a Republican supporter had said this it would be 200 comments of "Bush this" and "McSame that" and "Palin the other thing" all out of touch.

    But because Murtha is blue, what do we hear ...

    "Well, he shouldn't have said it, but it's true"

    pitiful, pitiful, pitiful

    October 16, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
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