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Blog Home Page --> House -- Pennsylvania -- 12

Fresh Faces, Same Places

Rightly or not, the inability of Republicans to pick up the 12th district seat in Pennsylvania on Tuesday has jarred loose the 2010 storyline that Republicans are destined to win back the House. This oddly shaped, gerrymandered district tucked into southwestern Pennsylvania quickly put the GOP on the defensive for failing to win a swing district in a year the party should be winning just such a seat.

But Tuesday's results also cemented into place the idea that voters in states around the country are simply ready for somebody new, and both parties are now adjusting their game plans to that end. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions said Tuesday night that Republicans "will take the lessons learned from this campaign and move forward in preparation for November." Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen quickly called for a press briefing with reporters, scheduled for this morning, to discuss the lessons Democrats took from Tuesday.

"Bill Halter's a fresh face, Jack Conway in Kentucky . . . Joe Sestak -- these are the ones that are winning," former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said Wednesday on MSNBC. "I think there is an enormous mood of anti-incumbency, and it extends to the Republicans, not just the Democrats."

Individual campaigns in states across the country are certainly picking up on this, too. Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Jeff Greene, both running for the Senate in Florida, and North Carolina Senate candidate Cal Cunningham -- all newcomers to statewide and national politics -- used the primary results in Pennsylvania to take shots at their more politically experienced opponents.

While Mr. Cunningham is technically the establishment-backed candidate, he served only one term in the state senate and is using his runoff opponent's 14 years of statewide elected office against her.

Critz, Burns Battle For Murtha Seat

Potential national implications will be gleaned from the vote tally today in the special election for Pennsylvania's 12th district, but ultimately voters in the district are choosing between a Democrat who's ran as a torch carrier of a powerful congressional insider or a Republican who promises to stand up against the majority party in Congress.

The late John Murtha had won the southwestern Pennsylvania district fairly easily for the past 36 years. He wielded an influential gavel as chairman of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee and steered millions of dollars in government spending to his district. However, it's unclear whether a Democrat with a different name running in a Republican-favored year will have the same electoral fortune.

In 2008, despite a two-to-one Democratic registration advantage and a strong environment for Democrats in the state and nationwide, John McCain narrowly carried the district. Meanwhile, Murtha won re-election with 58 percent.

Today, Mark Critz, a longtime staffer in Murtha's district office, is up against businessman Tim Burns. Both national parties and outside interest groups have spent heavily on the race -- Republicans see an opportunity to get a head start on winning back the House in November, while Democrats hope to save one in their effort to hold the majority.

Republicans believe the vote will come down to national issues like health care reform, and that voters will cast their ballot in protest to the party in power.

Continue reading "Critz, Burns Battle For Murtha Seat" »

PA-12 Poll: Critz Pulls Ahead

Mark Critz, a former aide to the late John Murtha and the Democratic nominee to replace him, has pulled out to a 6-point lead in the special election for Pennsylvania's 12th district, according to a new Susquehanna poll. Critz leads Republican Tim Burns 44%-38% with less than a week to go.

The Johnstown-based district in southwestern Pennsylvania has swing potential, despite the overwhelming Democratic registration advantage and Murtha's dominance in the district for the last 36 years. It's the only district that voted for both John Kerry and John McCain.

Critz is running as a continuation of Murtha -- a strategy that could be detrimental to his chances, as we've seen two incumbents in the last several days lose the nomination of their own party. And two more incumbents are in danger next Tuesday, as well, as Sens. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) go up against formidable challengers.

Both national parties are spending big on this race, as it could provide a boost in momentum for either. That includes Republicans, who haven't won a competitive House special election this cycle.

The survey was conducted May 10 of 400 likely voters with a margin of error of +/- 4.9%.

Burns Aims For First GOP House Pickup

Democrats are 6-for-6 in special elections for the House of Representatives since President Obama took office. But that doesn't faze Tim Burns (R) as he runs in a May 18th contest to replace the late John Murtha representing Pennsylvania's 12th district.

Asked about the Democratic successes in those earlier races, Burns matter-of-factly responds, "I wasn't running in any of those."

In an interview with RCP this afternoon, Burns claimed that the momentum is on his side in the race, as voters in his district are hungry for a change from "Washington as usual," which his opponent represents.

"People understand that this is a guy who's going to vote in lock-step with Pelosi and Obama," he said of Democrat Mark Critz, a former Murtha aide. "They are not happy with either one of them in this district."

Voters can "see through" his attempts to distance himself from the national Democratic agenda, Burns argues, as evidenced by a fundraiser held in his honor in Washington this week by Pelosi, and a visit Friday from Vice President Joe Biden.

Continue reading "Burns Aims For First GOP House Pickup" »

In PA-12 Special, Democrat Seeks Distance From His Party

Mark Critz was in Washington Tuesday night, feted by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Congressional Democrats who hope he'll join their caucus after a special election next month to replace the late John Murtha. Later this week, Vice President Joe Biden heads to Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional district to join Critz on the stump.

But even as he benefits from the support of his party's heavyweights, Critz is taking pains to distance himself from its agenda as the vote draws nearer. Most conspicuously, the former Murtha aide launched a television ad this weekend in which -- with his voice apparently hoarse from the campaign trail -- he aims to set the record straight and declares his opposition to the health care law passed and signed last month. It was a response to an ad from the National Republican Campaign Committee which said Critz "will put the liberal agenda before Pennsylvania."

"I'm pro life and pro gun. That's not a liberal," Critz says in his own spot.

Continue reading "In PA-12 Special, Democrat Seeks Distance From His Party" »

PA-12 Special Election Is Set

Republicans in Pennsylvania's 12th District chose businessman Tim Burns as their nominee in the special election race to complete the term of the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.). Burns will face Murtha's former district director Mark Critz in the May 18 contest.

Burns was chosen by 85 of 131 voters at the district's GOP convention last night, the Tribune-Democrat reports.

"We have an opportunity to put a common-sense conservative in a seat that has long been held by a political insider," Burns told the crowd, referring to Murtha's powerful position as head of the Appropriations Defense subcommittee and close ties to Speaker Pelosi.

Critz was chosen earlier this week by Democratic leaders in the district ahead of former state Treasurer Barbara Hafer.

Hafer Steps Forward To Succeed Murtha

Former state treasurer and auditor general Barbara Hafer will run to replace the late John Murtha in Pennsylvania's 12th District. Hafer gives Democrats a legitimate contender for the seat, which Republicans will target in the forthcoming special election and for the full term in November.

The news was first reported, to whom Hafer said: "I will never be able to fill Murtha's shoes, but I would be honored to follow him. ... Of course everyone is shocked and saddened about John Murtha passing away...but we always have to look forward and try to continue the work he has done for our state."

Hafer is a former Republican who switched parties after endorsing Democrat Ed Rendell in the 2002 gubernatorial election. As the GOP nominee, Hafer lost the 1990 governor's race to Democrat Bob Casey, the father of current Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.).

John McCain won the southwestern Pennsylvania district in 2008 by less than 1,000 votes; Murtha won re-election with 59 percent.

John Murtha Dies

Rep. John Murtha (D-PA 12), an 18-term congressman from southwestern Pennsylvania, died today at age 77. He had been hospitalized for complications related to gallbladder surgery.

Murtha's death comes just days after he became the longest-serving member of Congress in Pennsylvania history. Murtha represented the 12th District since winning a special election in February 1974. Beginning with his election to a full term later that year, Murtha never won re-election with less than 58 percent of the vote.

Murtha's passing will set the stage for the seventh House special election in the 111th Congress, in a district that was evenly split in 2008 between John McCain and Barack Obama. Murtha had faced his toughest race that year as well, on the heels of a controversial remark about people in his district being "racist." He's also been the subject of scrutiny over earmarks he's secured for his Johnstown-based district.

This year, Murtha was facing a primary challenge from Ryan Bucchianeri, a former Naval officer and placekicker on the Navy college football team. Republican Bill Russell, whom Murtha defeated with 58% in 2008, is running again, as is Republican businessman Tim Burns.

Whoever replaces Murtha will have the impossible task of filling in for one of the more powerful members of Congress. Murtha, the first Vietnam veteran elected to Congress, was an Approprations committee "Cardinal" -- a title given to the chairmen of the various Appropriations subocommittees. Murtha chaired the Subcommittee on Defense.

The area that now makes up the 12th District was heavily Republican from the Civil War to the 1930s, according to the Almanac of American Politics. Without Murtha, it is the quintessential swing district. McCain won it by fewer than 1,000 votes; John Kerry won it by 8,000 votes four years earlier.

Democrats have won every special election in this Congress, including one pick-up from the GOP in New York 23. Another is set in the Florida 19th on April 13, with yet another seat opening soon when Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) steps down to run for governor.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Murtha Comments Lead To Tight Race

John Murtha's comments that some of his constituents would vote against Barack Obama because of long-held attitudes on race could hurt the Pennsylvania congressman's bid for re-election, a new Republican poll shows.

The Susquehanna Polling & Research survey, conducted 10/21 for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, polled 400 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Murtha and retired Army officer William Russell were tested.

General Election Matchup

Russell has long flown under the radar as a surprisingly well-funded Republican challenger. Through the end of the third quarter, he'd raised a stunning $2.5 million, though he has blown through all but $333,000 of it. Murtha had pulled in nearly $2.2 million and kept $500,000 on hand.

The one-day sample, conducted for the paper after Murtha's remarks (which came at a Tribune-Review editorial board meeting), doesn't mean Murtha is toast, but it does indicate at least a little blow-back. Aside from the Tribune-Review, Susquehanna largely conducts political polls for GOP clients.