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. Winnie Hussein . . . in Montana

    African Americans historically vote Democrat, so it is not surprising, nor is it "racist" for them to continue to do so. It just so happens that this time they have a candidate who is bi-racial. Someone a lot more similar to them than the usual old white guy. This is not racism. I am a tried and true Democrat and I was for Hillary. You know why? Because she is an intelligent woman who more closely resembles me. That does not make me a sexist! Since she lost, I have tossed my support fully behind Sen. Obama because he belongs to the party with which I most identify. The Democratic Party sticks up for my values and beliefs; the Republican Party does not. It is that simple, people.

    Now, as far as racism from whites goes, a dear friend in Texas, who is white and has consistently voted Democrat for over a decade, will not vote for Sen. Obama because he is black. She has also swallowed all the lies of the right, that he is Muslim, etc. Many of us have tried to reason with her, to no avail. That's the way it is. That, folks, is racism.

    By the way, I'm white, female, well-educated and in my 30s.

    October 16, 2008 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  2. john

    A greater percentage of black guys will vote for Obama because he is black than there are white guys voting for McCain becuase he is white – so which ... um ... race is more ... errrrr ... more racist? (I thought we were all of the human race anyway.)

    A color blind society has to maintain itself being led by the senior politicians of both parties. Any Republican House Rep or Senator out there saying McCain won't get black votes because Obama is black? Oh wait, Senator Clinton said that (or was it her husband the ex-President?). The Democratic party certainly pushes race around like pucks on a shuffleboard.

    October 16, 2008 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  3. RW

    I saw a comedy clip recently.....it was quite funny and true.

    Obama is not black, he is half white and half black which is ture (I have always love that mix)


    If you can't bring yourself to vote for him although you know he has the better ideas....

    For the white folks out there, just vote for the White half of him.
    Me, I am going to vote for the black and white half of him.
    Like I said I LOVE to mix it up.

    October 16, 2008 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  4. Stephanie

    Im a middle aged white woman, and I WILL be doing the OBAMA jiggy all the way to the booth!

    And to all those idiots who are "white" and cant vote for a "black" candidate, I say to you, May God have mercy on your souls!

    October 16, 2008 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  5. keeth in california

    Once again Murtha opens mouth, inserts both feet. Way to go, Democrats! Although Obama is in the lead and likely will walk into the White House, there are 19 days remaining before the election and anyone can still screw up. Place your bets on the Democrats.

    That being said... GO'bama/Biden '08!

    October 16, 2008 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  6. RThomas

    Democrat = Entitlement

    October 16, 2008 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  7. Holly

    Hey, I'm from western PA originally and unfortunately Murtha was right. There are three people in my immediate family who are Democrats, voted for Hillary but say that they "can't" vote for Barack. I'm going to try to talk some sense into them this weekend when I go home. People are afraid of what they don't know. I didn't even meet an African American person until I traveled on field trips out of state in high school. That being said, Murtha could have phrased his comment less bluntly.

    October 16, 2008 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  8. Doug, New Jersey

    Funny how they don't talk about the poor African American McCain supporters being called the N word and other racist comments by white liberals while people of all color supporting Obama around them smiled and did not say a word against their racism.

    What about the "American of African origin" (his own words) talk show host in Wisconsin who said he is supporting McCain that now recieves racist death threats and attacks from liberal Democrats daily?

    Even more so, how about the fact that a major majority of liberal Democrats in America today believe that those who disagree with their ideology are more evil than Al Queda and the Taliban?

    Libs will continue to make up lies about people at the McCain rallies and CNN will report them as fact, but never will they have a discussion on the worst hate, division, and racism in America today completely fueled and carried out by liberal Democrats.

    October 16, 2008 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  9. Honestly .... Race?

    Murtha ... shouldn't have to appologize ... he's a life long resident of the area.

    He knows what the culture there is like. He knows that while 4 out of 5 people there don't have a hangup because Barack is a black man, 1 in 5 do.

    Hey folks, thats 20%. The traditional martin of victory in voting during presidential races is 3% .

    That video of Richard Trumka at the steel workers meeting is a 2nd indication that Obama faces an additional, real hurdle that McCain does not.

    Finally – John Lewis' words were perfectly chosen. He didn't call McCain a racist or segregationist.

    What he did do is point out that person that incites others to do despicable acts is more dangerous that the houligan that acts up.

    George Wallace and John McCain & Sarah Palin are all the inciters.

    Culture ... it's what you do when no one is watching.

    October 16, 2008 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  10. Vincent, Great Lakes, Illinois

    JED October 16th, 2008 12:36 pm ET

    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.

    Both Condeleza Rice and Colin Powell stated that Obama would make a good President.

    Alan Keyes ran in Illinois. What a joke. I ended up voting for the third party as both the Democrat and Republican Party had idiots on the ballot.

    October 16, 2008 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  11. W Spivey Merritt Island, FL

    Don't worry PA, I'm sure there are some other states worse off than you. I spent six miserable years of my life in your fair town of Pgh and believe me I know racism when I see it.

    October 16, 2008 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  12. frank

    I've lived out there and have relatives there. Murtha is pretty accurate. Granted there is still racism everywhere, but it is more prominent around Pittsburgh than Philadelphia.

    October 16, 2008 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  13. Blue By You

    I LIKE THIS TACTIC. It makes those folks in Western PA have to decide if they are racist, and if they are not then they will vote Obama. I don't think it will hurt one bit.

    October 16, 2008 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  14. Mercedes

    Rep. Murtha shouldn't apologize. Have anyone seen the clips of the rallies for McCain/Palin in PA? It is pathetic to see everyone who supports Obama has to apologize for what they say. The truth hurt but people must be honest about the issue. There are many people who will not vote for Obama because he is black.

    October 16, 2008 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  15. I Want My 2000 Edition McCain Back

    Are these people paid by the McCain campaign to do this? Now the republicans have more fodder for their "race card" argument. It's really awful since Senator Obama has never actually said anything about anyone being a racist.

    October 16, 2008 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  16. Every Wilson


    October 16, 2008 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  17. voter


    your comment is the reason there cannot be a serious conversation about race. No one said that if you vote aganist Obama that you are a racist. Murtha is talking about people who have said that they will not vote Obama because he is black. Second, african americans always vote 90%+ for democrats. the numbers Obama is receiving from african americans have nothing to do with his race, but they are voting democrat as they always do.

    October 16, 2008 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  18. Vegas Barbie for Obama

    As a native NW Pennsylvanian (now living far, far away), I can say that Murtha had no need to apologize: he was RIGHT! Western PA is indeed racist. Further, the whole dang rest of the state isn't much better: York PA is the home of the KKK in PA and some of the comments I read that folks contacted during the primaries by Obama supporters made OUT LOUD in responses to get out the vote calls are downright shameful. Murtha was right on and I can only hope that the few good hearted folks in that state are the ones who caused a ruckus forcing his retraction of the truth. Still, Senator Obama is ahead there and I pray that lead holds...make the haters crawl back into their racist hanging trees and just watch the change this country needs begin!
    OBAMA/BIDEN '08 & '12 YES WE CAN!!!!

    October 16, 2008 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  19. Greg M.

    President Obama and V.P. Biden the Baton Rouge,La. supporters and supporters around the world for Obama are eagerly awaiting the victory of positive change. We (my family and I) along with the supporters from around the world can't wait for Nov.4.2008 to get here. The Baton Rouge supporters for Obama/Biden would like to invite / welcome you and your family to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Please don't worry about the lies, your supporters in Baton Rouge and around the world have your back.

    Obama / Biden 08'............................................

    October 16, 2008 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  20. Truth Hurts

    I am a Obama supporter but I am tired of people screaming racism!! Everybody know who the racist's are. Let a fool be a fool. You don't have to call them out. They will call themselves out!! Some people will not vote for Obama for various reasons and the same goes for Mccain. But we have to be realistic too. Racism will play a small factor but everything else will out weigh that!!

    October 16, 2008 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  21. Tiff of lithia springs


    October 16, 2008 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  22. Tim from Midwest

    "The way for them to prove him wrong is to vote Obama."

    – Phil in KC

    Are you serious Phil? Is that the only method for Americans, who don't support Obama, not to be labeled as racists? That is insane. Vote for moral character and the things you believe in, not labels or the avoidance of labels. I am not voting for Obama and it has nothing to do with the fact that he is of mixed race. I do find it disturbing though that he has shunned his white mixture to be "categorized" as black. That is another issue for another time though.

    I am getting really tired of the libs screaming foul when the subject of race comes up. Unfortunately, it is an issue and it probably always will be an issue. As long as we have people like Rev. Wright in th public eye spewing hatred toward America and things that a majority of Americans had nothing to do with. Slavery was abolished a long long time ago and no reparations are necessary after so many years. You know who keeps the oppression on minorities strong? Minorities. They refuse to let go of the things that happened before most of them were even thought of.

    Anyway, vote on Nov. 4th for what you believe in, not the fear of reprisal from the libs!


    October 16, 2008 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  23. Vegas Barbie for Obama

    To "Still for Hill" saying: When Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry (all democrats) lost their presidential bids, no one was screaming racism. HELLO? What are you smoking? No one cried racism when those guys lost beacause they ARE WHITE and the reason they lost is because they were non-charasmatic, and fairly weak players. Obama is so far head and shoulders above those has-beens and YES he is black and YES some parts of this country and MOST of PA has a big racist element and YES if he loses in those states, racism will be the primary root. Get over Hillary not winning, you idiot, and vote for the candidate that HILLARY NOW ENDORSES–OH, WAIT, THAT WOULD BE OBAMA!!

    October 16, 2008 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  24. Still for Hill, but voting McCain

    Face it. Obama is a terrorist sympathizer. He will sit down with our enemies without precodition.

    In addition, Obama is very good friends with radicals and at least one crooked muslim that is currently locked up.

    But you can't talk about people, or you are RACIST.

    Get over yourselves Obama supporters. Obama's BAD Judgment is an issue. Questioning his judgement doesn't make you racist.

    McCain 08

    October 16, 2008 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  25. alpha_nu_916

    republicans, why can't you call a spade a spade?

    the mchate/falin rallies, comprised of 99.99% caucasians, direct words such as "traitor," "terrorist," "kill him," "off with his head," "osama bin' lying," and other garbage toward sen. obama.

    attendees when questioned as to why they won't vote for sen. obama throw out statements like "because he's arab," "he was not even born in the united states, check his birth certificate," or my favorite "he's a muslim." sounds pretty racists and xenophobic to me.

    i am, by no means, saying every mchate/falin supporter is racist or a hate mongerer; my grandmother supports mchate. i am saying, however, that there is a visible – you can hear plenty of them at the rallies – amount of people leveling some pretty vile filth at these rallies. and aside from mchate's friday rally, little else has been done by his campaign to stem this hatered.

    October 16, 2008 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
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