Republicans last night selected a political newcomer who has never sought elected office as their nominee in the special election to succeed the late U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha.
Tim Burns, a self-made millionaire from Eighty Four, Washington County, and a native of Mr. Murtha's hometown of Johnstown, handily defeated Bill Russell, who mounted a strong challenge to Mr. Murtha in 2008.
Three other hopefuls spoke before the group but none received a nominating motion, leaving them out of the vote altogether. Mr. Burns' nearest rival for the nomination, Mr. Russell, a retired Army officer who moved to the district two years ago to challenge Mr. Murtha, came in second. He indicated that he still plans to seek the nomination for a full term in the party primary.
Both the special election to fill the remaining eight months of Mr. Murtha's term and the primary to nominate a candidate for the November general election are being held on May 18.
"This is a great opportunity we have before us. We have an opportunity to put a common sense conservative in a seat that has long been held by a political insider," Mr. Burns said.
The vote was 85 to 46 for Mr. Burns. One of the 132 delegates in the room last night left the room early.
Taking a swipe at Mark Critz, the former Murtha district director who won the Democratic nomination on Monday, Mr. Burns positioned himself as a political outsider.
"Voters have a clear choice between a government insider who will side with the liberals in Washington and someone from outside Washington who will work to fix our broken system of government," he told cheering delegates.
The contest to succeed Mr. Murtha has already attracted widespread attention at the national level. Last night, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a statement attacking Mr. Burns for selling his Western Pennsylvania-based firm to a national company.
"Tim Burns only cares about his bank account and not about jobs in Western Pennsylvania," said Shripal Shah, a spokesman for the DCCC. "Tim Burns sold out the jobs of Western Pennsylvanians just so he could get rich quick."
Mr. Burns acknowledged in an interview last night that he had failed to vote in the 2000 and 2002 general elections and the 2004 primary.
"I had a lot of business interest. I traveled a lot and when I could, I voted," he said. "I can guarantee you one thing: I'll be voting on May 18."
So will Mr. Russell, who last night openly criticized Mr. Burns' inexperience and promised a head-on primary challenge. In a statement after the vote, he lashed out at party leaders who put their early backing behind Mr. Burns.
"The party establishment has been saying all along that they prefer Tim Burns because he can write his own checks," Mr. Russell said. "The party doesn't want a candidate that's connected to the people, they want one with money."
Three other candidates who sought the nomination were left without a single vote or a nomination. Bill Choby, who has repeatedly challenged Mr. Murtha in the past, spoke last night, as did Ron Robertson, a Johnstown resident.
The third, Luke Summerfield, an Indiana County businessman. won applause with a surprising bit of candor:
He told the delegates he had no chance of winning their support.
"I have no popular support, no base and no financial resources," he said.
Dennis B. Roddy: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1965.