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. wait a minute

    What's wrong with Pennsylvania?
    During Governor Ridge's administration, PA almost attracted me to move there. Why are so many people moving away from PA now? It's not just the young people. Doctors and other professionals, too.

    October 16, 2008 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  2. kk

    When Obama said "Spread the Wealth", he meant making America more wealthy, instead of the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and America getting weaker and weaker

    October 16, 2008 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  3. Tim...Trying again to post

    Race has been injected into this election by the media, supporters, and even the candidates. Race will always be a factor as long as 'We the People' keep labelling ourselves. (African-American, Italian-American...take your pick).

    If someone votes for or against a candidate based on the candidate's race, that is a form of racism. I guess the only form the Dems will call foul is for when people are not voting for Obama.

    I personally am not voting for Obama because I don't agree with his views on issues that are important to me. I could care less what his race is, I don't like where he stands on issues.

    I don't know if I'm voting for McCain or Barr, but it won't be for Obama

    October 16, 2008 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  4. Susan in Delaware

    Why does he need to apologize for telling the truth? Isn't this the same as BO's comment about the small town Pennsylvanians who cling to guns and religion? Face it-there is racism in this country and it goes both ways. Just listen to the Howard Stern man on the street interviews in Harlem if you want proof.

    October 16, 2008 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  5. Cindy Nelson

    Listen~ It isnt labeling people because they have a prefrence.
    It's very different when you are a person who lives in PA and some of your friends or your co-workers say they will not vote for Obama because he's black. I also know families who are not voting and who always vote Democratic, but wont vote this year, because of Race.

    It's ashame. It's not me, I am voting for Obama/Biden.
    But this stuff does go on here in PA. More than the rest of the country may even realize.

    October 16, 2008 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |


    October 16, 2008 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  7. Jan

    One of the many reasons I will never vote for Barack Obama is his campaign's constant accusation that anyone who doesn't vote for him is a racist.

    Obama claims to be a uniter yet somehow the Clintons (as color-blinded as any two political leaders I can think of) came out of the Democratic primaries accused of being racists by "some" in the Obama campaign.

    Truth is, when 90+% of black Democrats only vote for ONE Democrat in the primaries - the black Democrat - then we actually get to witness real racism at the ballot box.

    Barack Obama is running for President and has zero experience at actually doing anything except running for President and giving speeches that cause biased pundits like Chris Matthews to swoon.

    Please don't call us racists just because we want to vote for a candidate who has actually accomplished something that qualifies him to be President.

    And my family is a Navy family so we are voting for ...
    A True American Hero as well.

    October 16, 2008 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  8. kini mizaan

    I don't understand why race is an issue. Barack Obama is just as white as he is black. That means he is semtic(semi white, semi black). That is why he is so popular. He is embraced by both white and black and all in between those extremes.

    October 16, 2008 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  9. Samantha

    If any white who doesn't vote for Obama is racist then...

    Any Black who votes for Obama is racist.

    Simple as that.

    October 16, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  10. Jean

    Where is Obama's white mom?

    Do the Democrats think she'll make Obama seem less black and lose the black vote?

    October 16, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  11. rob

    If you want to hear real racism just check out that republican fountain of knowledge.. hop head.. pill popping " rush " Limerick.

    His racial tirade was unbelievable..but predictable. Time for another upper rush.

    October 16, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  12. jimmy

    well now we have two racist comments by Democrats,
    MIND this folks: IT IS THE Democrats raising the issue of RACE.
    A Black congressman Lewis and now a White Democrat Murtha!
    Imagine what would happen if a Republican even hinted at anything
    racial in any comment!!! The Democrats would crucify him.

    October 16, 2008 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  13. carol

    We all know that not everybody in Pennsylvania are racist's and that was probably said in the heat of the moment and that is normal as there have been some really vile comments made toward Sen Obama.
    Mccain and Palin have caused this stirring up of race/hate etc by letting it go on so long and thinking it was OK......it's not OK and those two should be ashamed.
    What a disgusting way to run a campaign....they are out of control and we will not forget either of them after this campaign is over....unfortunately it won't be in a good way.....just a total disgrace to the good....open minded American people.

    October 16, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  14. Chuck

    Murtha is exactly right. I have lived in Western Pennsylvania most of my life. I am white. I have lived in Columbus, OH, Boston, MA, and Washington, DC, Pittsburgh has always been a backwards thinking city due to the old Milltown tradition. It is changing, but is still very racist and very segregated. Local news is reporting racial fighting in the schools almost daily. Murtha just spoke the truth. Sometimes thats hard to hear.

    October 16, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  15. thomas

    Hide from the truth and you will never find yourself.

    October 16, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  16. JB

    The only people that will not vote for obambi because he is black are democrats.. They are racists. Republicans will not vote for this socialist, democrat because he is a socialist democrat!

    It's pretty simple and obvious.
    Good luck Bradley, er I mean Obama

    October 16, 2008 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  17. craig

    Funny how white people are getting offensive on racial issues. Race is a part of the American landscape. The Liberals tell minorities that white reublicans hate them, and republicans tell rural and low income whites that minorities are at fault for thier station in life.
    NEWSFLASH!!! We have a black/half black guy running for president, race is an issue.
    Democrats might try to envoke race from to to time and I think that might backfire but I bothers me to no end when conservatives act like race no longer matters in this country.

    Some folks on this post ask why race was not injected when Gore and Kerry lost. Duh!! The last time I looked those guys are white, so race could not be a factor. No one complained when 90% of blacks voted for Clinton, Gore, and Kerry.

    October 16, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  18. Paul, Maryland

    Maybe ethnic origin is not a factor in this presidential race. If not, then what is this "Joe 6 Pack American" all about? Walk a mile in a person shoes, talk to those who appear different than yourself, you may just find that you have something in common with the people, who, like it or not, you prejudge and oftentimes despise.

    I have witnessed with my own ears some of my white colleagues state that they would sacrafice everything they own before they would vote for a black man.This my fellow countrymen is racist and ignorant, and yes, our great country, in spite of the strides we have made, has a long way to go.

    Think about the letter that was sent to The Southern Baptist Congregation when McCain ran against W. To paraphrase the content, it posed a question to the people; could you possibly vote for a man who fathered an illegitimate black child? Who wrote the letter you ask, well, many think it was the Turd Blossom himself, Karl Rove. Of course this was directed toward the little dark skin girl that the McCain family adopted.

    This country may not be comprehensively racist but racism is still practiced here on many fronts that include many ethnic groups and it is wrong.

    In the previous presidential election we witnessed the GOP campaign discredit a man who actually served his country in time of war, while at the same time exalt at the very least two cowards who chose to defer from war 7 times between them rather than serve their country. These two along with the third party were the first to go to war as leaders; how sad.

    America is at the proverbial crossroad. How will we respond?

    October 16, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
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