Liberals Unseat Moderate Democrats in Pa. Primary

by John Fund

Liberals settled some scores in last night’s Pennsylvania congressional primaries, defeating two moderate Democratic incumbents who had voted against Obamacare.

Organized labor came away with mixed results. The AFL-CIO had endorsed Representative Tim Holden, a 20-year incumbent, who had mastered the art of winning in a centrist district. But a new congressional map gave Holden lots of new territory, including liberal Scranton. His opponent, trial lawyer Mark Cartwright, was able to crush Holden in the new areas and win with 57 percent of the vote.

In the Pittsburgh suburbs, labor did better by winning a grudge match against Representative Jason Altmire, a key Blue Dog Democrat. Union leaders were furious at Altmire over his vote against Obamacare, claiming he had promised them he be vote for it before reneging in the end and opposing it.  

Alleghany County Labor Council head Jack Shea put it bluntly: “He told a roomful of 60 labor leaders that at the end of the day, the last version of whatever the House bill was going to be, he would be there.”

As a result, the unions went all out for Representative Mark Critz, a former aide to the late Representative John Murtha, who was thrown into the same seat as Altmire through redistricting. Critz wasn’t yet in office when Obamacare passed in March 2010, and has expressed disapproval of much of the bill. But on the campaign trail he pounded away at Altmire’s vote for a Republican balanced-budget amendment, saying it would savage Social Security and Medicare.

In the end, the race came down to turnout and regional loyalty. Critz had only represented 27 percent of the new seat’s voters, but union workers made 36,000 phone calls and cranked up turnout so that 40 percent of the primary vote came from Critz areas. That mattered. Critz won an astonishing 90 percent of the vote in his home turf, managing to beat Altmire by two points.

But his success may be short-lived. The new congressional district actually tilts Republican, having given John McCain 54 percent of the vote in 2008. Republican nominee Keith Rothfus has more money in the bank than Critz does after the draining Democratic donnybrook, and Rothfus came within only a single point of defeating Altmire in 2010.

Look for a hotly contested liberal vs. conservative race this fall, but I’d give the edge to Rothfus, who will have both a united party and favorable demographics in his corner. 

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