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Murtha beats Mascara in battle of incumbents

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

By Cindi Lash, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

In a brawl for political survival, U.S. Rep. John P. "Jack" Murtha yesterday cruised to an easy victory over U.S. Rep. Frank R. Mascara in the race for the Democratic nomination in the newly drawn 12th Congressional District.

U.S. Rep. John Murtha enters his campaign headquarters in Johnstown yesterday, clenching his fist in a victory salute. (V.W.H. Campbell Jr., Post-Gazette)

Murtha, 69, the 28-year congressman from Cambria County, won by about a 2-1 margin over Mascara, 72, who entered Congress in 1995 after a long career in Washington County politics.

"I don't see that he has the votes," Murtha told supporters at his headquarters in an office in Johnstown shortly before 11 p.m. when he declared victory.

"You can see the difference in this area and you can see our numbers in his area," he said.

After a bitter campaign in which the two congressmen lobbed charges and countercharges at each other, Murtha said he was in no mood to extend a post-election olive branch to Mascara.

"I have no interest in that guy at all. What he's done was scurrilous," Murtha said. "I seldom worry about an opponent, but I have no interest in this guy at all."

Although Mascara, of Charleroi, led Murtha in Washington and Greene counties, Murtha offset those gains by amassing huge leads in Cambria, Somerset and Indiana counties and by performing well in Fayette County -- key territory that had been coveted by both candidates.

More Primary Coverage:

U.S. House race results


The sprawling new 12th District was created after a Republican-drafted redistricting plan realigned the districts that Murtha and Mascara served. Murtha now moves on to the November election, where he will face Republican William Choby, who was unopposed in the primary.

As a recording of John Mellencamp's song "Small Town" blared in the background, Mascara appeared before his supporters at the Holiday Inn in Belle Vernon and conceded the election at 11:15 p.m. He said his defeat was also a defeat for the people of the district, who now will not be the beneficiaries of projects he had hoped to champion.

"We knew we had an uphill battle. In the beginning, we were fighting big-money interests in Washington," he said. "This was corporate American versus men and women and we all lost."

A congressman since 1974, Murtha is the No. 2 Democrat on the Appropriations Committee and lead Democrat on its subcommittee overseeing the Pentagon budget. Through his campaign, he claimed the region would be devastated by the loss of his seniority and clout.

A member of Congress since 1995, Mascara has served on the Financial Services Committee and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Previously, he was a Washington County commissioner for 15 years and county controller for six years.

Before this year, both men were easily re-elected in their respective districts.

For Murtha, it was the finish to a race that observers said he had second thoughts about joining when he saw how redistricting turned his region into a geographic snake wending westward to West Virginia's northern panhandle.


Audio clips

Download an MP3 sound file, edited and optimized for the Web. In an interview with KDKA's Mary Robb Jackson, John P. Murtha says he's energized by his victory over fellow Congressman Frank Mascara.
(File size 367K)

Download an MP3 sound file excerpted from KDKA, edited and optimized for the Web. Frank Mascara says his loss is a loss for all the voters in District 12.
(File size 360K)

Visit the following sites to download players for Windows or Mac machines to listen to the file:

Real Player
Microsoft Windows Media Player



Once he found the altered district tolerable, Murtha -- usually only a medium-profile congressman back home -- became an almost constant presence across the district. For a congressman who routinely faces only nominal general election challenges and hasn't seen a primary election challenge since 1990, this wasn't business as usual.

Murtha spokesman Brad Clemenson estimated Murtha's campaign spent $1.3 million, well beyond its average outlay for primaries and general elections combined. Murtha sought reinforcements, too, running voter drives that included getting 1,600 Republicans to register as Democrats in his home turf of Cambria County.

Through the start of May, the end of the most recent campaign finance reporting period, he took in $1.38 million, almost three times Mascara's total.

Mascara is the fourth incumbent Congressman to lose his seat at the polls this year.

Also last night, retired police officer Stevan Drobac Jr. of Center defeated former Ross Commissioner Mark Purcell in the Democratic race for the newly drawn 4th District. Drobac will face Republican incumbent Melissa Hart of Bradford Woods in the fall.

In his victory speech at the American Serbian Club in Aliquippa, Drobac compared his upcoming battle with Hart to the Beaver Falls native Joe Namath's upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. He promised supporters that he would not "make a promise to be bipartisan like [Hart] did two years ago [but then]vote strictly partisan."

Drobac has built his campaign around local tax relief and economic revitalization with special attention paid toward bringing jobs into the area, and said he would make a point to introduce bills specifically designed for economic revitalization in the 4th District.

Drobac, who won the endorsement of the Beaver County Democratic Committee, took nearly 90 percent of the vote in that county, and 70 percent of the vote in Lawrence. Purcell won the Allegheny and Westmoreland County parts of the district.

"I wish him luck," said Purcell. "He's got a mountain to climb against Melissa Hart, no question."

In the Democratic race in the 18th District, financial administrator Jack Machek of North Huntingdon defeated Washington County Sheriff Larry Maggi after a night in which the two had swapped positions as returns came in. Their three-way race also included Democrat Bob Domske, a farmer and steel worker from West Finley, who was a distant third.

Machek will face state Sen. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, in November. Murphy was unopposed in yesterday's primary.

In the 9th District, first-term congressman Bill Shuster won the Republican primary, continuing his quest to retain the seat his father, Bud Shuster, held for 28 years before retiring last year.

Bill Shuster, 41, of Hollidaysburg, Blair County, defeated David Keller, 32, a computer salesman and onetime aide to former U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford, and Dave Bahr, former civilian commander at Letterkenny Army Depot in Cumberland County. In November, he will face Democrat John Henry, a diner owner from Bedford and a longshot who has not yet raised $5,000 in campaign funds.

Frank Mascara concedes defeat yesterday in his race with John P. Murtha for the Democratic nomination in the 12th Congressional District. (Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette)

In the 14th District, U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Swissvale, was unopposed in the primary and has no opposition in the general election. Doyle previously held the seat in the 18th Congressional District, but after redistricting found himself in the new 14th District.

The 14th District seat had long been held by U.S. Rep. William Coyne, D-Oakland, but Coyne opted to retire.

In the 3rd District, U.S. Rep. Phil English, R-Erie, also was unopposed in the primary. English, a former Erie County controller, also has no opposition so far for the general election.

Staff writers Tom Gibb, Janice Crompton and Brian Lyman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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