UPDATE: Critz Defeats Altmire; Holden Loses
April 25, 2012
By Jim Ellis While Mitt Romney was putting the finishing touches on a five-state sweep that will end all doubt about his prospects to become the Republican presidential nominee, Pennsylvania voters also chose statewide nominees and general election candidates from their new congressional districts. The GOP nominated businessman Tom Smith in the Senate race. Mr. Smith, backed by Pennsylvania Tea Party organizations, invested more than $5 million of his own money in order to advertise heavily throughout the state. The move paid off as he racked up a 40-22-20% win over former state Rep. Sam Rohrer, who was the director of the Pennsylvania chapter of Americans for Prosperity, and businessman Steven Welch who enjoyed the support of Governor Tom Corbett and the state Republican Party establishment. Smith now faces Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D) in the general election and will find tough going in challenging the man who unseated then-Sen. Rick Santorum (R) by more than 18 points six years ago. In the 12th Congressional District race that featured an incumbent pairing between Democrats Jason Altmire (D-PA-4) and Mark Critz (D-PA-12), the hard fought campaign culminated in a close victory for Critz. The three-term Altmire had the advantage of already representing just over 63% of the new 12th district, versus Critz who saw only 29% of his constituency carry over to the new seat. Both candidates were on their way to spending more than $1.5 million for the primary contest. Strategically, Altmire was playing to his previous constituents, emphasizing the fact that he is the known entity to a majority of voters in the new 12th CD. Critz ran the traditional Democratic primary campaign, promoting his support from organized labor and endorsements from well known party leaders like former President Bill Clinton. He attacked Altmire, saying some of the three-term member's votes were too conservative to adequately represent a Democratic primary constituency. In the end, the election came down to the final precincts since Altmire was averaging about 70% of the vote in his previous territory, while Critz approached 90% from his Johnstown anchor region.
Considering he began the campaign with at a severe name ID deficit, the 52-48% win is an impressive one for Critz and again proves that appealing to the base voter in either party with the fundamental party message is usually successful. Since the new 12th is only a 45% Obama district, Republican Keith Rothfus, who held Altmire to a 51-49% victory in 2010, certainly will have the opportunity to run a competitive general election campaign against Critz who may have just positioned himself outside of his new electorate's mainstream.
In the eastern part of the state, Rep. Tim Holden fell to his Democratic primary challenger. Carrying over just 21% of his previous constituency to the new 17th District put Mr. Holden and attorney Matt Cartwright at parity. Raising and spending well over $700,000, the wealthy liberal activist prevailed with an impressive 57-43% win, thus bringing the Representative's twenty year congressional career to an end.
Cartwright showed tremendous strength in Lackawanna (78%) and Luzerne (71%) Counties, which proved to be the difference. These two entities were brought over from the former 11th District, long represented by then-Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-PA-11) until his 2010 defeat at the hands of freshman GOP Rep. Lou Barletta. This particular area was the key to the GOP's eastern PA redistricting strategy. The solid Democratic area was moved away from Barletta and into the new 17th as a way to protect Republican gains. With no base in the heart of the newly-created heavily Democratic district, Rep. Holden became a tempting target for the hard-charging Cartwright.
In the open 4th District, all of the real action was in the Republican primary because the GOP nominee becomes the prohibitive general election favorite in a seat that gave over 55% of its votes to John McCain in the 2008 presidential contest. Last night, state Rep. Scott Perry, an Iraq War veteran, swept every county in the new district and scored an overwhelming 54-19-14% victory over York County Commissioner Chris Reilly, who enjoyed the public endorsement of Sen. Pat Toomey (R), and attorney Sean Summers, respectively. Perry will now face mechanical engineer Harry Perkinson who scored 56% in the Democratic primary. Mr. Perry will now become the next Congressman. The final party primary of the night occurred in western Pennsylvania's 18th CD, where five-term Rep. Tim Murphy (R) was repelling a challenge from former US Senate staffer Evan Feinberg. The outcome was never in doubt, but Feinberg likely did better than most people predicted, as the Congressman scored a somewhat underwhelming 63-37% win. Murphy will now face Washington County Commissioner Larry Maggi who was unopposed in the Democratic primary. The Congressman is the prohibitive favorite. With the Altmire and Holden defeats, 48 House incumbents have either announced their retirements, are running for other offices, resigned their seats, passed away, or have been defeated for renomination. The Holden defeat now brings the grand total of House open seats to 58.
Jim Ellis is a professional election analyst who has worked in national campaign politics and grassroots issue advocacy since 1978. He currently writes and speaks as a member of the PRIsm Information Network.