By Cameron Joseph - 04/24/12 09:00 AM EDT
Three House Democrats face some of the toughest contests of their careers in Pennsylvania’s primary on Tuesday.
Reps. Jason Altmire and Mark Critz are locked in a nasty primary that only one of them can win, while Rep. Tim Holden is facing a strong challenge from the left.
The Altmire-Critz race comes down to demography versus union fury. Altmire currently represents approximately two-thirds of the new district, which stretches from his home base in Pittsburgh’s wealthier suburbs two hours east to blue-collar Johnstown, Critz’s base. Johnstown makes up only one-quarter of the district.
But unions remain powerful in the area, and nearly all of them are backing Critz because of their anger with Altmire for his vote against Democrats’ health insurance overhaul. While Critz has said he also opposed the legislation, many union heads said Altmire had led them to believe he’d support the bill. The United Steelworkers alone has 32,000 members in the district.
Critz also has the support of former President Clinton, who remains immensely popular in the region. Critz is a former top staffer for the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), who was a close friend of Clinton’s and helped Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Polls initially showed Altmire with a big lead, but a survey released last week had him up by just 4 percentage points. Both candidates predicted a tight race. “I can’t imagine it’s going to be more than about a 500-vote spread,” Critz told The Hill last week.
Whoever wins the race won’t be able to rest easy: They’ll face Tea Party favorite Keith Rothfus (R), who nearly beat Altmire in 2010, in a district that leans slightly Republican.
Meanwhile, Holden is in a tough primary battle against attorney Matt Cartwright (D), a self-funding candidate who has been spending freely on television ads.
The congressman has long represented a Republican-leaning district based in Harrisburg, winning most elections without difficulty and maintaining a strictly centrist voting record. But the district now stretches 100 miles north to Scranton and includes much new terrain.
Cartwright has criticized Holden for voting for some energy bills backed by President George W. Bush and for voting against Democrats’ health insurance reform law, while Holden has attacked Cartwright for some of the clients he’s represented.
Holden also has had to contend with the Campaign for Primary Accountability, a super-PAC that targets vulnerable long-term incumbents of both parties. The group has spent more than $200,000 on the race.
One incumbent who looked like he might face a tough race is sitting pretty: Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) appears to be on track for a big win over his Tea Party challenger, former congressional staffer Evan Feinberg.
Feinberg got off to a good start, locking up the endorsements of his two former bosses, Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.). But he struggled mightily at fundraising, having only $80,000 cash on hand as of April.
The deep-pocketed, fiscally conservative Club for Growth and the Campaign for Primary Accountability both targeted Murphy early on, but they backed down when it became clear he’d win the race.
In Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate race, businessman Tom Smith (R) seems to have the edge over the state establishment’s preferred candidate, businessman Steve Welch (R), and former state Rep. Sam Rohrer (R). Whoever wins the race starts off as an underdog against Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.).