October 16th, 2008
11:17 AM ET
12 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. tulsa

    Mary,
    Jack Murtha is a decorated Veretan and should receive the same respect that you would give Senator McCain.

    the patriot,
    You are the essence of the phrase, "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel"

    Doug D,
    Yes, that's what places Democrats apart from Republicans, it seems. Democrats admit their mistakes and learn from them. Republicans don't think they make mistakes, and if they did, they would never admit it, or learn from it. (ie George W Bush)

    October 16, 2008 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  2. Tim...Just a Thought

    To Phil:

    "So, if that's the case, maybe Murtha knew what he was talking about. The way for them to prove him wrong is to vote Obama."

    If this isn't race baiting, what is? Prove your not a racist and vote for Obama...Come on, that is just wrong.

    October 16, 2008 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  3. Dr. Lonnie Sessoms, Jr.

    After listening to the final debate on the other night, I observed some of the facial expressions and body language of Senator McCain. Having served in Vietnam myself over 39 years ago as an infantryman, I am aware of the signs and symptoms of this problem. I know that each Presidential candidate has undergone a series of medical examinations, yet I noticed moments with Senator McCain that is very questionable. What will be his response/reaction under the intense pressure of the Presidency?

    I am still weighing out my options for who will make the most effective leader>

    October 16, 2008 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  4. Jim in SC

    There are some people who will vote for Obama only because he is black without ever examining his presidential platform or past political experience... Is that racist?

    October 16, 2008 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  5. Desmond Sequeira

    Murtha is right to APOLOGISE. Most people are getting to the point of going beyond race and silly attention-grabbing statements that put the process back are not smart.

    October 16, 2008 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  6. MD, TX

    With victory in sight, we are now beginning to see what the democrats truely think.

    We have no one to blame but ourselves for the next 4 disasterous years.

    October 16, 2008 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  7. hurriCAIN PALIN

    when nov.4 comes around, everything will go against nobama.

    people will vote for mccain because of experience, people will vote for

    mccain because of race. everybody will vote for mccain because they

    dont want the fate of america to be in the hands of an inexperienced

    first term senator.

    October 16, 2008 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  8. Just Me In WV

    I am getting a little tired of comments that say Blacks are only voting for Obama because he's Black. That thought is so belittling its a shame. I am voting for Sen Obama because he is the best bet for this country at this time.

    October 16, 2008 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  9. Dave in Illinois

    The king of the pork barrel earmarks is afraid of losing his clout if he doesn't deliver enough votes in Pennsylvannia for Obama. Will Obama take him on when he's president to change that? I think not.

    And, doesn't he have any faith in ACORN to take care of that? How many new "voters" have they registered in Pittsburgh to overcome any rural "racial bias"?

    October 16, 2008 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  10. mitch

    i'm voting for the part of barack that was adopted into the crow indian tribe!

    October 16, 2008 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  11. MD, TX

    Dear Paul,

    Typical response: if you don't vote Obama you're a racist.

    I think if you vote for Obama just because he is black, then you are one too.

    October 16, 2008 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  12. Que Quedas

    WELL i AM RACIST......I have only voted for white men every election.......but i have a change in heart this time and Obama will get my vote

    October 16, 2008 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  13. Mike

    Western Pennsylvania IS overwhelmingly racist. Every time I come home to visit, I'm shocked by just how much pent-up racial tension exists in the area. The fact that Obama is leading by such a large margin is nothing short of shocking.

    October 16, 2008 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  14. Alice Brinkley

    Murtha and anyone else "racist" are themselves racist for even bringing that thought into serious debate. Who cares if Obama is Black, White, Yellow or Orange - he still is not the person I would want in the White House.

    October 16, 2008 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  15. fella from Chicago

    The real racists live in our urban areas. Go up to any black in any major city and ask who they're going to vote for in the presidential election. See what I mean; you don't have to go to the backwoods of Pennsylvania to find racism.

    October 16, 2008 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  16. Alice Brinkley

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    Murtha and anyone else invoking the term "racist" are themselves racist for even bringing that thought into serious debate. Who cares if Obama is Black, White, Yellow or Orange — he still is not the person I would want in the White House.

    October 16, 2008 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  17. v,.ananthan

    ITS PLAIN AND SIMPLE.

    The people who doesn¨t vote for Obama are racists....
    (according to Obama and his supporters)

    McCain / Palin 08.

    October 16, 2008 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  18. Lou from CT

    Mr. Murtha made a mistake and he apologized. However, the underlying idea that some people will NOT vote for a candidate unless he is white still holds credence. I have heard that statement made in many corners here in New England.
    However, people MUST find a way to put that aside to consider THE ISSUES (economy, energy etc.) and drop any racial influence by the side of the road.

    Obama/Biden 2008

    October 16, 2008 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  19. Berkley Snyder

    Has anyone noticed that Biden is a 'good ole boy"?

    October 16, 2008 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  20. TJ Johnson

    Get over it Murtha. It is a right of us who are 100% American to vote for whoever we want to for whatever reasons we think best. You liberals think, in error, that only your political correctness way of thought is the American way. You have missed the point entirely of being a free American.

    October 16, 2008 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  21. Bill Ashley

    Hey Western Pennsylvania, you need to vote that Murtha jerk out of office. He hates you and thinks you are beneath him.

    October 16, 2008 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  22. Thomas5

    If Murtha will knowingly lie about our troops, himself being a former military man, then it should be no surprise that he'll lie about any other person or group.

    Murtha is a disgrace.

    October 16, 2008 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  23. Redneck for OBAMA

    The idea that people think OBAMA is communit like the guy from seattle who said he is brown, yeah right. You can hide on emails and type you're black, brown, asian, having to say you are means you r not. John McCain and Palin are racist and it is now an obvious fact!

    October 16, 2008 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  24. wtobias

    i keep seeing this ive got to vote for fill in the blank because of his color if i dont im a racist even if i dont agree with him what about if i dont like libreals dont care what color so maybe just maybe after the people in pa being insulted by obama by the they hug there guns and bible and murtha who has shot off his mouth without having a clue maybe he should not drink before he talks it may keep him out of lawsuits

    October 16, 2008 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  25. connie fones

    be careful of wolves in sheep clothing. obama do not express is ideas but expand on the thoughts of others and all he promise also will come out of tax payers pockets. why don't people get it . you hear what you want to and close your mind to the truth. listen to questions when obama begin to studder

    October 16, 2008 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
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