House’s top defense appropriator throws weight behind Dem to fill Murtha's seat

The House’s top defense appropriator is throwing his weight behind the Democratic candidate running to fill the late Rep. John Murtha’s (D-Pa.) seat.

Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), who took over as the chairman of the Appropriations Defense subcommittee after Murtha’s death, told The Hill that he is financially supporting Mark Critz’s (D) campaign. Dicks also indicated he views his backing of Critz an important boost to Johnstown, Pa., which lost its most powerful advocate when Murtha died.

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“It is going to take some adjustment” for the district, Dicks said in a short interview.

Murtha, 77, died Feb. 8 from complications following gallbladder surgery. He represented the district for almost 40 years.

Dicks is one of several Democratic heavyweights backing Critz’s campaign. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) hosted a fundraiser in Washington on April 20 for Critz, a former Murtha aide.

Dicks, who could not attend the fundraiser because of a late meeting, asked his campaign treasurer to send in $1,000 to Critz’s campaign.

Dicks also agreed to headline a breakfast sponsored by General Dynamics during an industry show in Johnstown, Pa., at the beginning of June. Murtha helped the show become a must-attend for defense companies and always headlined the breakfast on the last day. Known as Showcase for Commerce, the three-day event has been one of the most telling symbols of Murtha’s congressional power. The show became an annual draw for those in defense circles who knew that Murtha had the sort of influence that could make or break their business.

Critz is no stranger to the defense appropriations panel and defense industry. A former district director for Murtha, Critz helped recommend what companies should be considered for earmarks in the defense appropriations bill.  Defense companies, including giants General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and Boeing, all donated to Critz’s campaign through their political action committees.

Pelosi’s campaign committee also donated $2,000 to Critz’s campaign, according to the most recent records, as did Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

Since winning the backing of the Democratic Party to run for Murtha’s seat in the May 18 special election, Critz raised $ 376,088 in the last couple of months.

He is running neck-and-neck with Republican businessman Tim Burns in the special election. Burns has $387,462 in his campaign chest.