Tim Burns, the Republican running in the special election in Pennsylvania’s 12th district – the district represented by John Murtha until his death earlier this year – took a few moments today to talk to NRO.
Burns said that while this corner of western and central Pennsylvania has its share of economic troubles, the health care bill is the dominant issue on voters’ minds.
“People here are disgusted with Washington,” Burns said. “They don’t believe that elected officials are representing them. They are furious about the health care bill just passed; they not only believe that it was passed without their consent, but that it was passed against their will. They’re very upset about out of control spending, and worried about future of this country.”
Tim Burns is among those Republicans calling for a complete repeal of Obamacare and returning to the drawing board. “I don’t get many people tell me they like it but that they want to change a few parts,” he says. “They’re upset, they don’t like that it was jammed down their throats. We need some health care reform, but not this 2,700 page bill that Congress didn’t write, didn’t read, and don’t understand, and yet they expect the rest of us to live with its consequences.”
Burns made his opposition to the health care bill clear early on; his opponent, former Murtha district aide Mark Critz, announced his conditional opposition after the bill passed.
“It has been very difficult to pin him down on any issue,” Burns said. “I asked him three times to say specifically where he stood on the health care bill, the biggest issue before the country at a that moment. His eventual answer was convoluted and contradictory; he said the bill was too expensive because it didn’t include doctor fix – which by my math, makes it more expensive. I’d tell him that when you go to Congress, you have to decide before the vote, not afterwards.”
Outside the district, John Murtha’s name is mud, at least in conservative circles and those who oppose congressional earmarks. Burns said that while Murtha is remembered more fondly in his home turf, invoking his name is not a sure-fire vote winner for the Democrats.
“My attitude is, ‘don’t focus on the past, let him rest in peace.’ But there are mixed feelings here. My opponent is trying to running on Murtha legacy, but everyone knows he won’t come to Washington with the authority or influence Murtha had. He’s just more Washington-as-usual. Before Murtha passed away, I had Republicans and Democrats tell me, ‘I like what you’re saying, but I can’t come out against him. I can’t publicly support you or donate to you.’ Since his unfortunate death, I’ve had Republicans, Democrats, and business leaders get on board. There is a Democratic registration edge here, but these are conservative Democrats – pro-life, pro-gun, pro-common sense. McCain carried this district, and [state Attorney General] Tom Corbett won this district handily. These Democrats are not afraid to vote for the candidate, not the party.”
The special election falls on the day of the primaries, and there are contested primaries for Democrats in both the gubernatorial and Senate races. In special elections, a big key is turnout, and Critz would appear to have a bit of wind at his back.
“It’s a reality we’ve got to deal with,” Burns says, but adds, “The real excitement is in this special election. From what I’ve seen, people aren’t terribly excited about Democraitc primaries. This race is going to drive turnout – both locally and nationally, we’ve been getting a great deal of attention, and my opponent will be bringing in Joe Biden. I’ve gotten the endorsements of Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich. The NRCC and RNC are playing heavily in this race.”
Burns describes himself as being in a similar situation to Scott Brown – a little-known conservative, seeking to win a seat held by a legendary Democrat who had been in Washington for decades – but notes that as a small businessman and political rookie, he’s an unlikely crusader. “I’ve never been in politics before, and have no background whatsoever in politics. I’m concerned about what I see in this country and how its changing. I’m worried my two kids won’t be growing up in a better world than I grew up in, and I wouldn’t be able to kids in the eye if I had to tell them that I did nothing. We have a responsibility to do what we can to turn this around. This isn’t my dream job, not what I’ve always wanted to do, but it’s what I have been called to do.”
According to an internal campaign poll, Burns leads Critz, 45 percent to 41 percent.