House races

Reps. Altmire, Critz push for advantage in Pennsylvania Democratic primary

Democratic Reps. Mark Critz and Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania have similar backgrounds, corresponding voting records, and both have been targets of the GOP.

And next year they’ll have one more thing in common: they’re both running in the newly-formed 12th congressional district.

Pennsylvania lost one seat in redistricting and Republicans in the state, who controlled the line-drawing process, put the two lawmakers together in a GOP-leaning district.

{mosads}Both are campaigning hard and fast in a primary race that took shape this past week, when the Republicans released the map on Wednesday.

Altmire’s campaign sent out a note detailing his geographic advantage in the new district, while Critz sent out a list of primary supporters Thursday afternoon.

The two have worked closely in the House, and have very similar voting records: anti-gun regulation, anti-abortion rights, anti-climate change legislation. Altmire voted against Democrats’ health insurance reform law, while Critz, who was not in office yet, said he would have done the same.

Altmire starts the primary with a geographic advantage, something his campaign was quick to tout in its release. Close to two-thirds of the new district is in Altmire’s current district in suburban Pittsburgh, while Critz represents about a quarter of the new district.

Critz also trails Altmire in money, with $420,000 to Altmire’s $700,000 as of the end of the third fundraising quarter.

But while both oppose Democrats’ health insurance reforms, Altmire has taken more heat for his position.

“Jason has antagonized many in the labor movement — there is deep unhappiness with him because some believe that he lied to them with respect to that healthcare issue,” said Jon Delano, a Pittsburgh-based political expert and reporter. “It’s the sense amongst some in the labor movement that Altmire wasn’t entirely truthful with them.”

Critz has also sought hard to woo labor, focusing on trade issues and China since he got into office. The list of supporters he has includes Bill George, a former president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.

One endorsement does not mean all unions will jump to Critz, but if they do that could swing the primary in his favor.

“Labor could make a difference here,” said Delano.

The two lawmakers have similar professional backgrounds. Before running for Congress, both worked as congressional staffers.

Altmire left Pennsylvania to go to college in Florida, where he ended up working in the congressional office of then-Rep. Pete Peterson (D-Fla.). After he earned his master’s degree in health administration, he was appointed to President Bill Clinton’s healthcare task force at the age of 25.

In 2006, he returned to Pennsylvania and defeated then-Rep. Melissa Hart (R-Pa.) for her seat.

Critz was a longtime staffer to the late John Murtha (D-Pa.), whose death triggered a May 2010 special election to fill the seat.

Critz won that tough race and, a few months later, won the full term with a scant 51 percent of the vote. Altmire also won his 2010 race with 51 percent.

Both lawmakers have been GOP targets.

This past week the National Republican Congressional Committee launched web ads and robocalls attacking Democrats who opposed the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline. Altmire and Critz were two of the lawmakers on the receiving end of that attack.

And, whichever one makes it through the primary, he will face a tough general election.

The new district is Republican-leaning, although both Altmire and Critz have some crossover appeal and survived 2010, a terrible year for Democrats. The socially conservative district also has large numbers of union members and Reagan Democrats.

Republican Keith Rothfus, who nearly beat Altmire in 2010, is mulling another run, as is State Rep. Jim Christiana (R).

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