Murtha to constituents: Oh, hey, sorry for calling you racist; Update: Murtha cancels debate?

An instant classic in the genre of perfunctory apologies, in which a guy who pronounced the western half of his state racist before not one but two newspaper editorial boards professes a profound change of heart 12 hours later. In his defense, the universe of things said about or done to The One that instantly qualify as “racist” is forever expanding. Hard to knock him for assuming that voting against him might qualify too.

He issued the following statement today: “I apologize for making the comment that ‘Western Pennsylvania is 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.

“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.”

Still no apology about the Haditha Marines, of course. I take it from the quick turnaround that even America’s most election-proof congressman was a little nervous about the political fallout, which makes me wonder if Bill Russell’s in better shape than we thought. I went looking for polls but couldn’t find any, including on Russell’s website, which means either none have been done or they’re too grim to post. Anyone seen any data?

Update: PA Watercooler hears from Russell’s campaign manager that Murtha’s cutting and running from tonight’s debate.