Don't expect a big investment in fighting for Murtha's seat

Normally, one might expect a big push by both national parties to fight the special election in May for John Murtha’s House seat, left empty by his death last week.  Salena Zito says that may not be the case at all, since the state is expected to lose House seats after this year’s Census.  Murtha’s district will be likely to disappear in the coming redistricting:

Franklin & Marshall College political analyst G. Terry Madonna says Murtha’s is the likely seat to be eliminated once Census Bureau figures confirm Pennsylvania’s slow population growth.

“Odds are that district will get carved out,” he said Monday.

Redistricting, the process of dividing up congressional seats, occurs every decade in some states because of population changes.

Pennsylvania is expected to be one of nine states to lose a congressional seat — Ohio would lose two — based on census estimates. The Keystone State is expected to send only 18 representatives to the House after 2010 Census results are used to redraw boundaries in 2011.

Democrats hope that Murtha’s widow Joyce will agree to run in the special election to complete his term, and then stick around for 2010.  They could use the sympathy votes, for one thing, and her name recognition will mean that they don’t have to invest as much money in the campaign.  Republicans could run William Russell again, who had good name recognition from the last challenge, but they probably won’t invest as much into the effort with the pending redistricting, either.

However, the GOP might consider making a big play anyway.  They control the state House, and after this year’s elections, have a shot at controlling the Senate as well.  If the Republicans hold the state legislature, they could rescue the district after the Census by eliminating a previously safe Democratic seat.

Will it be worth it to sink a bunch of cash into the special election and the 2010 race, though, especially given the opponent they will likely face?  It’s hard to run against a widow, who will have the natural sympathy of a district that has sent Murtha to Washington longer than many of them have been alive.  They may be better off contesting the special election more lightly and then pressing harder in November, taking advantage of the national momentum against Democrats when it hits its peak, and then planning to salvage the district in the state legislature only if that succeeds.