Hillary Clinton simply cannot be the Democratic nominee if she doesn't win the popular vote, Pennsylvania congressman and Clinton-backer John Murtha said Wednesday.
"Clinton has to win Pennsylvania," he argued in an interview. "She has to be ahead in the popular vote to have any chance at all of getting this nomination."
Murtha declined to speculate on how the rest of the primary would play out. But during a wide-ranging interview he offered takes on many aspects of the primary race that put him at odds with his chosen candidate.
Asked what he thought were the best qualities for a commander in chief, the congressman stressed that "experience in the White House is invaluable." But from there he offered a vision that echoed much of the argument put forward by Sen. Barack Obama: the need for skilled, insightful advisers and strong judgment.
"The guy who made the least mistakes since I've been here was Ronald Reagan," said Murtha. "Reagan hired good people. He had no experience in the White House but he had good people. He had been a governor. He had a very strong philosophy. I was [Tip O'Neill's] guy between Reagan and him because so much of it revolved around defense. So Reagan himself called me many times and I supported him in Central America. But he hired good people. What you have to do is either have experience or hire good people."
Murtha, who chairs the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, also found himself at odds with both Sens. Clinton and Obama on the issue of earmarks. Asked if he, like the two Democratic candidates as well as Sen. John McCain, agreed that Congress should adopt a one-year moratorium on the funding provisions, the congressman did not dance around the question.
"I not only disagree," he said, "I believe we would not be following our duty if we didn't. Hell, I've put billions of dollars in the budget over the years; changed dramatically the things people are trying to do from the White House. Most of it, almost all, has turned out for the best. I've been sitting there for a long time. Those guys are there for four years."
Murtha, who gained public recognition for speaking out early and often against the Iraq War, saved much of his criticism for the policies of the current administration. He took the president to task for undermining America's role in the international community, depleting military resources, and not being honest with Congress and the American public.
But when he was asked whether he valued Sen. Barack Obama for speaking out in 2002 about these problems even before the war began, Murtha did not offer much in the way of credit. Comparing the situation to Robert Gates opposing the stop-loss program before becoming Defense Secretary and then changing his position, Murtha declared:
"Obama had a nice view from the outside. It is easy when you are outside to make a statement like that. When you are inside, you have a responsibility to try and work this thing out. I don't know that [his speech] had an impact. I didn't even know about the speech. A lot of people said a lot of things."
Going forward, Murtha predicted that Clinton would have a double-digit victory in Pennsylvania, even though he believed the issue of Obama's controversial former pastor would not factor into the equation.
"In my district, it is the economy," he said. "It is spending money in Iraq rather than the district, it is spending money for roads in Iraq rather than roads in the district. I haven't heard anybody say anything about that. And they probably wouldn't either."
But he demurred when asked whether, like fellow Clinton surrogate Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, he thought Obama would ultimately end up the Democratic nominee and president of the United States.
"It is too far ahead," he said. "I've been around long enough to know that you can't predict something like that."