Pennsylvania: Critz Defeats Colleague, Faces Competitive General Election

Jessica Taylor April 25, 2012 · 2:15 PM EDT

Two moderate Democrats from Pennsylvania won’t be returning to Congress next year after Tuesday’s primaries in the Keystone State -- but only one can blame the new make-up of his district for his loss.

In western Pennsylvania’s 12th District, Rep. Mark Critz pulled off an upset in his member vs. member race against Rep. Jason Altmire, who had previously represented over 60 percent of the new 12th District after Republicans drew them into the same seat. Critz narrowly edged Altmire by two points, 51 percent to 49 percent.

In eastern Pennsylvania’s 17th District, Rep. Tim Holden succummed to a primary challenge from wealthy attorney Matt Cartwright, losing by 14 points. But Holden currently represents only about 20 percent of the new district, and Cartwright was well-known in the new Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area of the district after appearing in TV commercials for his law firm.

Both Altmire and Critz are members of the shrinking Blue Dog Coalition, which saw its membership decimated in the 2010 cycle and have already seen a handful opt for retirement this year rather than face competitive reelections. Several others, including Larry Kissell (N.C.) and Jim Matheson (Utah), still face competitive general elections.

Despite having a distinct territorial advantage, Critz’s get out the vote effort, particularly in his home base of Johnstown, was impressive. Buoyed by organized labor, Critz topped over 90 percent in Cambria County, and Altmire couldn’t match those totals in his base of Allegheny County, where he received 69 percent.

But there won’t be any rest for Critz. This fall, the congressman will face Republican Keith Rothfus in a district that John McCain and George W. Bush won with 54 percent in the last two presidential contests. Rothfus lost to Altmire by less than two points in 2010.

Unfortunately, Holden’s loss could be used as supporting evidence for the “anti-incumbent” narrative. But the ten-term moderate Democrat could barely be considered an incumbent in the northeastern Pennsylvania district because he represented just a fifth of it. Holden faced an ideological fight after representing a Republican-leaning district for a decade and then having to prove his liberal bonafides in a Democratic primary. And he had a financial challenge. Cartwright was very well funded for a challenger with personal cash (nearly $400,000) and outside support from League of Conservative Voters, Campaign for Primary Accountability, and MoveOn.org.

A couple months ago, Rep. Tim Murphy (R) was believed to be vulnerable in the 18th District. But he easily turned back a tea party challenge from former Senate staffer Evan Feinberg, 63 percent to 37 percent.

Through seven states, 67 of 69 incumbents (97 percent) have been renominated in primaries that didn’t have two Members facing off against each other.

In the open 4th District, state Rep. Scott Perry will succeed retiring Rep. Todd Platts after winning a seven-way GOP primary with over 53 percent of the vote. Perry is likely headed for an easy election this fall in the safe Republican seat.

Republicans also chose their nominee to face Sen. Bob Casey (D) as former coal executive Tom Smith (43 percent) defeated former state Rep. Sam Rohrer (21 percent) and businessman Steve Welch (19 percent).

Casey starts the general election with $5.3 million in the bank (as of April 4) and a significant advantage over Smith, but the Republican’s personal money (he spent $5 million in the primary) could quickly close that gap and can’t be ignored. Smith still would have to overcome Casey’s moderate image and family heritage in the state.

Republicans don’t need to win Pennsylvania to take back the majority in the Senate, but Casey shouldn’t put it in cruise control just yet.