WASHINGTON, Pa.—Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown came to western Pennsylvania Friday to help a fellow Republican do the same thing Brown did in January: win control of a federal lawmaker's seat long held by a powerful Democrat.
In front of about 125 supporters on the steps of the county courthouse in Washington, Pa., about 20 miles south of Pittsburgh, Brown stumped for Tim Burns, who hopes to win the seat formerly held by U.S. Rep. John Murtha, who died in February.
Burns, a 42-year-old businessman who grew up in Murtha's hometown of Johnstown, on Tuesday is running in a special election to finish Murtha's term and is largely expected to win his party's nomination to run for a full term in November. Longtime Murtha aide Mark Critz is Burns' opponent in the special election and the favorite to win the Democratic nomination. Both parties also are having their primaries on Tuesday.
"I asked to come and help him because I saw a low of similarities -- somebody who was an outsider who was not beholden to any special interests and someone who will be an independent thinker and will be an independent voter in the other Washington," Brown said.
The race has drawn national attention, and both men spoke about whether Burns will join Brown, who won Democrat U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy's old seat in Massachusetts, and Republicans who defeated Democrat governors in Virginia and New Jersey, despite Democratic President Barack Obama's support.
Democrats outnumber Republicans in Murtha's old district by about 2-to-1, though Brown was outnumbered 3-to-1 when he won Kennedy's seat.
"This race is literally a referendum on the Obama-Pelosi agenda," Burns said. His supporters weren't shy about seconding that thought.
Sandy Barton, 48, of Brownsville, said she was a lifelong Democrat who switched to Republican because she disagrees with Obama.
"I support Tim Burns for the major point that he's going to try to repeal ... the health care bill," Barton said.
Ed McKinney, 70, of Washington, Pa., said he also was a Democrat and turned Republican about 18 months ago.
"I was embarrassed to tell anybody I was a Democrat, I hate to say it, but I hated to tell anybody that," McKinney said, saying Obama is trying to remake America in a socialist image.
"When people come here from other countries, they come here because of the kind of country we have and he wants to change it into the kind of country they came from," McKinney said.
Brown took a lower key approach as he walked with supporters from the rally to Burns' local campaign headquarters a few blocks away.
He wouldn't go as far as to call the race for Murtha's seat a referendum on the Obama administration. "I think it's just important to send good people in and we've been encouraging all Democrats, Republicans and independents to get out and vote for somebody different," he said.
Critz planned lower profile events in Johnstown Friday evening, a fish fry followed by a get out the vote rally. But he'll bring in a political star of his own on Sunday, when former President Bill Clinton stumps for Critz, also in Johnstown.