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. Doug D

    Phil,

    To prove themselves not racists, they have to vote for Obama ???

    So things like no experience, a socialist agenda, and a plan to guarantee American jobs will go overseas have no bearing on the issue?

    They have to vote Obama or else they are racists ... typical attack of the dems

    October 16, 2008 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  2. Dave from Leesburg, Va

    Obama and his supporters stand behind this racism edict every time he is questioned about who he is and what he stands for. They are the racists when it is convenient for them. Al Sharpton 101

    October 16, 2008 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  3. Ron , West Coast

    John Murtha is not running for president ..... Who cares what he says ?
    The people in his district are the only ones that can deal with his comments via their vote in Nov., other than that , what he says does not reflect on the Obama / Biden ticket .

    October 16, 2008 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  4. Zagazaw

    Barack Obama will be to the presidency what Tiger Wood is to gulf. Just like Woods change the dynomics of gulf, Obama will also change washington.

    If vote was need for Tiger Woods to get a shot at the game most likely he wood not be playing gulf today. yet he came out of no where and make the gome more appealing for everyone.

    Obama. 08

    October 16, 2008 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  5. Lee

    Murtha's a stupid old fool. Why are all the Obots screeming R@CISM when none exists.

    McCain – Palin are running race free from r@cism, s&xism, and socialism!

    October 16, 2008 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  6. Collin

    As a native of central PA it was apparent growing up there and more apparent now that this nation is polarized by this presidential election, that race IS a factor. It is a sadly a factor because of places like Western PA, and other rural places that cling to the past as if it were the present. It is true, most people (not all), but most people in these areas have a racist underpinning to their ideology. It comes from upbringing and isolation, which creates fear. These people fear that their lives and beliefs are at stake because a Black man has finally a good chance to take the role of the President of the United States of America.

    What they don't understand is that the Republican Party has played on these fears for decades and have made it a duty to appear as the 'guy on your side'. They 'understand' you, the farmer, the blue-collar worker, but what they fail to do is exactly that...support the people they say they're going to support. Now, you have someone who will support you and your family through and through and people are saying they won't vote for him because he's black...well...that's racism. People are showing up to McCain rallies with monkey dolls with Obama stickers on, yelling racial slurs. I would but my money on the fact that 9 out of 10 of these people come from a rural area, like Western PA. They're not exposed to anyone but the white people next door. Now you may say that I'm generalizing, but it's pretty much the truth.

    Just because Black people are voting for Obama, it does not make them racist, what do you call White people who vote for White canidates...? Racist? NO! We would never dream of it, but when you have someone saying they won't vote for Obama because of the color of his skin...that IS racist. No question about it.

    This exists all over this country, in largely in rural places, where the combination of isolation, upbringing and the lack of outside exposure lead to racial fear and racial hate! This does not apply to all of those peoples, but there is a vast majority of people in these areas like this. The Republicans have played them for fools for years and it's a road block on the way to progress. I should know, I grew up there!

    Murtha is correct is saying this and should not apologize. Racist can spew hate, but the minute you call them out on it, they turn into the victims. There's no excuse for Racism and there should be zero sympathy for it. WAKE UP WESTERN PA AND ALL OTHER RURAL RED AREAS!!!! VOTE FOR THE GUY WHO'S ON YOUR SIDE!!!

    OBAMA/BIDEN 08' and beyond!

    October 16, 2008 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  7. Uncle Sam

    A recent Gallup Poll has Obama's lead down to two percentage points. Perhaps the reports of McCain's demise have been premature.

    You know how the old man has a way of coming back from the dead.

    🙂

    October 16, 2008 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  8. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    I support Barack Obama for president, and we accept your apology.

    October 16, 2008 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  9. Paul

    Mr McCain wants to expand the same failed Bush policies

    He certainly served our nation with honor during war, but nowadays, when it comes to do the right things for our people, he is simply wrong.

    Now, it is our time to make a difference, it is our chance to improve our lives

    Let us vote for

    Obama-Biden 08
    Yes they will!!!

    October 16, 2008 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  10. SS

    If the TRUTH hurts...

    October 16, 2008 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  11. Lesley

    Why in the world do Dems make comments like this less than 3 weeks away from the election? Race has already been an issue, either publicly or privately, the whole time, but to come out and say something like this in a state where Obama has a lead makes me furious. People don't like to hear this kind of language, that they are racist and could cost Obama the election. There are many people in that area who are voting for Obama so let's not insult everyone.

    October 16, 2008 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  12. Mz B Real

    "Why Can't We All Just Get Along" Rodney King 92"

    October 16, 2008 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  13. Greg

    Isn't it just as racist to vote for Barack Obama because he is black, like so many people are doing. That's the exact same thing as saying you are voting against McCain because he is white.

    October 16, 2008 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  14. Gerry in Va. for Obama.

    First of all Senator Obama is just as much white as he is black so whats the big deal.

    He IS Presidential no matter what color he is.

    He is a LEADER WE NEED no matter what color he is.

    He is American no matter what color he is.

    AND...... At least we can look at him on television without wondering if he's going to explode from anger in the next second...

    AND.... We can be proud of him and his calm, collected way of dealing with stressful situations.

    AND HE WILL BE A WONDERFUL PRESIDENT FOR THE NEXT 8 YEARS.....

    October 16, 2008 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  15. Karen

    Apparently, racists come in all colors. Get real, people. Look at our government, entertainment industry, professionals. The days of people looking at one another with suspicion are waning. Young people don't care and older people are learning. On both sides of the argument.

    Speaking of which, I don't believe I've seen any Native Americans involved in the panels. Hmmm. Come to think of it, no Asians.

    I you call someone a name often enough, they become the thing you've spoken of so often. Stop the hatred and stop the race baiting.
    That mean ALL of us!

    October 16, 2008 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  16. Cricket

    Murtha's the biggest idiot going. Scary thing is Obama will likely pick him as Sec of Defense. Help us all.

    October 16, 2008 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    Oh my word, I'm so tired of people having to apologize for making a TRUTHFUL statement!!!! I moved to Erie, Pa. (northwestern PA) from Tennessee two years ago and I can tell you firsthand that this is one of THE MOST racist areas I have ever lived in my entire life (and I've lived in three other states too). Almost every comment that comes out of people's mouths starts with, "I'm not a racist, but..." My husband and I were home-searching, and were explicitly told by EVERYONE that we shouldn't move to certain areas because "that's where the dark people are". It makes me sick. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then call it a duck. At least 50 people here have flat-out told me they are supporting McCain because they won't vote for a black man for president because he'll "encourage the black agenda". Seriously! Thanks for calling it like you see it Rep. Murtha!!

    October 16, 2008 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  18. Jamie,Hattiesburg,MS

    I'M black and it's this simple.I'm behind Oboma 100%, and if Oboma and McCain swaped skin color I would not support him at all.

    October 16, 2008 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  19. Oh Really?

    Still for Hill, but voting McCain October 16th, 2008 1:19 pm ET

    People screaming racism is getting really old.

    When Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry (all democrats) lost their presidential bids, no one was screaming racism.

    Face it, people vote their hearts and who they think will be the best President. I'm a democrat who voted for Gore and then Kerry. I hate Bush!

    However, McCain is no Bush. I would have voted for Hillary (a conservative Democrat), but I can't pull the lever for a full blown radical socialist like Obama.

    God save the country if the three stooges are in charge: Obama, Reid, and Pelosi.
    ---------------------

    Helloooo-first, racism STILL exists in this country; maybe not for you but for many. Racism is a bit more covert and at times more institutionalized. So, until we really "e-racism", it will continue–and continue to get "OLDER"

    Secondly-seriously, no one screamed racism during Dukasis, Gore, and Kerry campaign? Would it be because they are all WHITE??? And please don’t go there saying white males get discriminated because they are white males. By virtue of being born a white male, you are automatically "privileged".

    Next, yes, ppl vote with their heart, mind, and eyes. Enough said doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where I'm going with THAT.

    Finally, you are a democrat who voted democrat who will vote republican because Obama is a socialist? There is some form of socialism already in existence in this country. Big businesses making the money and keeping it at the top while workers rarely if at all reap the fruits of their labor...or how about this...banks giving money to make money then when the bottom falls out who loses, homeowners?? Now stop me if I'm wrong....

    Bottom line, it’s better than having the same recycled "McBushcain" government and definitely beats having the U.S. run by Tweetle Dee and Tweetle Dumb-er, God help us, alright!

    October 16, 2008 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  20. Mike Cooper

    First off – I have to laugh at Murtha – he makes a statement then apologizes for it. Did he really change his thought or is it just a POLICITAL recovery? My guess is the second.

    Juanito, Seattle

    I'm brown, make a six-figure income, and will vote for McCain. I won't vote for Obama because he black, but because he is a communist. He won't call himself that of course, but his proposed policies of "sharing the wealth" are at the root of communism.

    Amen
    King Obama's first policy will be to abolish the 2nd Admendent. Disarm the Militia and the country is fair game.

    October 16, 2008 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  21. Peter (CA)

    If it's about ideology, vote for the guy who says what you like. There is no issue there.
    However, if you specifically vote against a candidate because of race (and on the little news program on a local radio station this morning I heard some interviews with voters in Ohio who said they would never vote for "black guy"), then it is racism.

    And for you right wingers who say it is a fals issue raised my Democrats, read the posts on these blogs. You'll find plenty of examples.

    October 16, 2008 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  22. Debby

    Who cares the damage is done by yet another Obama surrogates big mouth.

    October 16, 2008 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  23. Drew

    Murtha apology is worth a bucket of warm spit. Race baiting? Why? To make people feel guilty and vote for Obama because he is black and he is owed this? Obama isn't owed anything. He doesn't have the experience, fortitude, character, demeanor, wisdom, knowledge in many areas( how an free market economy actually works is the least of what he doesn't know). He does know how a socialist government works, he does know how to lie by omission, he does know how to train and teach people to go around polling/voting rules and as some deluded lawyers he creates he "own" truth and if he keeps repeating it long enough then it is true. People were concerned about Senator Clinton playing "dirty" politcis this election?. Obama wants to win the United States Presidency at all costs. All costs, Obama doesn't care about America and what this country stands for and what it was founded on. Obama doesn't care what or who gets destroyed . Life and liberty will be a foregone conclusion. The socialist party ( the New Democratic Party because Obama is a socialist ) will run this country into the ground.
    As for Murtha being a champion of the people and behind the military. He is the only ret. Marine that I know whose fellow Marines call him a "FORMER" Marine. And anyone who is Marine, there is no such thing as a former Marine. To the constituents of his district, do the rest of the nation and your fellow tax payers a favor – don't re-elect this unethical, dishonest, race baiting pathetic excuse for a United State Representative. If he can't be a man and step up and apologize when he is wrong, he isn't stepping up and doing what is right.

    October 16, 2008 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  24. Mike

    This is America people...you have a right to vote or not vote for any candidate you would like for any reason at all,

    October 16, 2008 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  25. Native of PA

    I've lived in PA all my life. Murtha speaks the truth. People are terribly hateful about Obama's race and his name – it's disgusting. The worst part – most of these hateful people refer to themselves as God-fearing Christians. I cannot imagine Jesus Christ approving of the things spilling from their mouths.

    October 16, 2008 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
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