Hillary gains a superdelegate -- and a big headache

It’s one of those classic good news/bad news conundrums. On the plus side, Hillary Clinton finally picked up a superdelegate, ending a long drought over the last few weeks. Unfortunately, she also picked up a hefty side dish of pork, as well as an extra helping of defeatism:

Rep. John P. Murtha has announced his endorsement of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, bringing his clout as a 17-term member of the House and a prominent anti-war Democrat to bear with more than a month until the primary here in his home state.

“Sen. Clinton is the candidate that will forge a consensus on health care, education, the economy, and the war in Iraq,” Murtha wrote in a statement about his decision.

Murtha, who represents the 12th district of Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, was an early and sometimes inflammatory critic of the Iraq war. As a retired Marine Corps colonel and the first combat veteran of Vietnam elected to serve in Congress, Murtha’s voice on Clinton’s behalf could prove especially valuable in both inoculating her from anti-war criticism and bolstering her claim that she is the most qualified to serve as commander-in-chief. That message is the backbone of Clinton’s appearances this week.

Oh, but Murtha is so much more than that! He’s also the King of Pork in the House. Murtha has become the poster child for out-of-control earmarking and naked power plays using taxpayer funds as his weapon. Not long ago, he almost found himself the focus of an ethics probe for openly threatening another Representative on the floor for challenging one of his earmarks. In that sense, he might be the perfect Clinton backer.

And don’t think Barack Obama won’t pick up on that. He will certainly tread cautiously himself, but his campaign will waste no time in pointing out that Murtha is one of the biggest examples of the kind of Beltway politics he wants to fight. The only way Hillary could have had someone make that clearer would have been to have Senators Ted Stevens and Robert Byrd issue a joint press release endorsing Hillary. Her status as a major pork-barrel distributor — almost a half-billion dollars in seven years– practically writes the commercials on their own.

Murtha’s status as the House’s leading defeatist on the war won’t hurt nearly as much. His incoherent rants on the subject, including a retreat over an “event horizon” to Okinawa as a staging area for a re-invasion if necessary, match Hillary’s own immediate-withdrawal rhetoric on the stump, and aren’t much different from Obama’s, either. However, when Hillary gets to Denver, she may need some help in declaring defeat and sounding retreat over any handy event horizon. If so, the right man just joined the team.