Wednesday, April 25, 2012

With Labor's Help, Critz Defeats Altmire in PA-12

From: National Journal

Rep. Mark Critz, D-Pa., has defeated fellow Democratic Rep. Jason Altmire in Pennsylvania's 12th District primary.

Critz's campaign confirmed that Altmire called to concede the race after 10 p.m. With 92 percent of precincts reporting, Critz led Altmire 52 percent to 48 percent.

Altmire praised Critz in a statement and pledged his support to the Democratic nominee in the general election. Critz will face off against Republican Keith Rothfus, an attorney who ran and lost against Altmire in 2010.

"Congratulations to my colleague Congressman Mark Critz on his hard-fought and well-deserved victory in the primary," Altmire said in the statement. "He has my full support as his campaign moves on to the fall."
Altmire was in Washington, D.C. tonight for votes.

Republicans were planning to aggressively contest the seat no matter who won, but are more bullish about their chances now that Critz is the nominee. Their candidate, attorney Keith Rothfus, narrowly lost to Altmire in 2010. In that campaign, Altmire made a point of highlighting his conservative credentials, including his vote against President Obama's health care law. Critz was elected to Congress after that vote, and while he has close connections to labor, has cut a moderate profile in the House. He bolted from his party on the Dodd-Frank financial services overhaul, and voted against ending the ban on openly gay servicemen in the military.

Nonetheless, the National Republican Congressional Committee also claimed victory with Critz's win, tying Critz to President Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

"In a district where the President is deeply unpopular, Mark Critz will have to defend his tax and spend record of supporting President Obama's job destroying economic agenda," the committee wrote in post-primary statement.

Pennsylvania's Republican-controlled legislature drew Altmire and Critz together after the state lost one seat in the decennial reapportionment process. Altmire began the race at an advantage, with nearly two-thirds of the 12th District's residents coming from his old constituency, while Critz brought fewer of his old voters -- just under 30 percent -- from his old district. But Critz closed the gap thanks to heavy support from organized labor, which cooled to Altmire after he voted against the Democratic health care reform plan in 2010.

That support from labor groups, which boosted Critz with volunteer campaign help and over $83,000 on independent expenditures, allowed Critz to cut into Altmire's base of support in the populous western portion of the district.

Critz won the member-versus-member matchup by racking up big margins on his home turf and keeping Altmire's margins lower in his sections of the district. But Critz's feat is all the more impressive because current Altmire constituents significantly outnumbered current Critz constituents in the new district.

Critz won with an astounding 91 percent in Cambria County and 87 percent in Somerset County while holding Altmire below 70 percent in Allegheny and Beaver counties. Altmire won the district's middle ground, Westmoreland County, with 52 percent, but it wasn't enough to overcome Critz's massive advantage in the eastern portion of the district.

Critz's victory also keeps Johnstown, his hometown, the unofficial capital of the 12th District. Johnstown has sent a resident to Congress continuously since just after World War II, and no Johnstown congressman has lost an election since 1948; the previous two, Republican John Saylor and Democrat John Murtha, Critz's old boss, each served utnil they died in office, in 1973 and 2010, respectively.

Altmire is the fifth House member to lose a primary this year. Reps. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and Don Manzullo, R-Ill., were eliminated by House colleagues in member-versus-member races, and Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, lost her renomination bid to a tea party-affiliated candidate. Earlier Tuesday night, Rep. Tim Holden, D-Pa., lost his 17th District Democratic primary to attorney Matt Cartwright.

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