As a result of newly drawn district lines, two incumbent Democrats from Western Pennsylvania will face each other in Tuesday's primary election for the chance to run for one congressional seat in the fall.
Rep. Jason Altmire, 44, of McCandless, whose 4th District includes the Pine-Richland area, and Rep. Mark Critz, 50, of Johnstown, Cambria County, both seek to represent the new 12th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Population losses in Pennsylvania have resulted in the loss of one of the state's 19 existing congressional districts. The reconfigured map of 18 new districts will merge territories once represented by Altmire and Critz into one sprawling district in 2013.
That means one of the two incumbent congressmen will be forced out of office as a result of the primary next week. The other will face a Republican challenger, lawyer Keith Rothfus of , in the November general election.
Altmire was elected in 2006 and is serving his third term. Critz won a special election in 2010 to replace the late Rep. John Murtha after working as a top aide to the longtime congressman from Johnstown.
The Critz-Altmire race has been contentious leading up to the primary.
“It has been tense at times,” Altmire admitted at a recent debate hosted by WPXI.
Early in the race, Critz challenged 900 of the 1,651 signatures Altmire filed to earn a spot on the ballot. That challenge cost Altmire 400 signatures, but he ultimately won in court.
Altmire has released commercials that accuse Critz of siding against Wall Street reform; failing to vote against the Tea Party budget to dismantle Medicare and Social Security; and voting to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood.
Altmire has also criticized Critz, saying he failed to take a stand by voting “present” while Altmire cast a "no" vote on a Republican-backed budget.
“I've never voted 'present' and will never,” Altmire said. “I believe the people of Western Pennsylvania sent me to Washington to fight for them, and you'’ll never see me putting politics ahead of the needs of this district.”
According to PoliticsPA.com, Critz's "present” vote was part of a coordinated effort by House Democratic leaders to obstruct the budget plan of Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Critz responded with a commercial that chides Altmire, saying “You're better than this.”
Critz said he is running to represent the new district because he believes in public service and, with his experience, can best serve residents of Western Pennsylvania.
“Too many politicians focus on politics in Washington, while I believe we should be there to make a difference,” Critz said.
“The only litmus test I have for supporting or opposing a bill is based upon its impacts on the people of Western Pennsylvania.”
Both candidates said they plan to protect Social Security, Medicare and veterans' programs.
Altmire said his work in Congress on behalf of veterans led to the first change to the GI bill since its creation and the first reform of the Family Medical Leave Act since President Bill Clinton signed it into law in 1993.
During his three terms in Congress, Altmire said he has succeeded in having 27 of his legislative initiatives signed into law, including many that dealt with veterans’ benefits. He said he has cast more than 4,600 consecutive votes and has made every vote since 2007.
Altmire also said he plans to work with colleagues across the political spectrum to address the national debt and “get our fiscal house in order.”
“My top priorities in Congress are to represent Western Pennsylvanians to the best of my ability...,” he said.
Since his election to Congress, Critz said his top priority has been creating and protecting jobs. He said he opposed the Republican Balanced Budget Amendment because he believed it would have resulted in devastating cuts to Social Security, Medicare and veterans' benefits while costing an estimated 15 million jobs.
“I will continue to make job creation my top priority as long as I have the honor of serving the 12th District in Congress,” Critz said.
Critz said he has been endorsed by major labor unions, including the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. Former President Clinton also recently endorsed Critz.
Altmire has been endorsed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Democratic Committees in Allegheny, Beaver and Westmoreland counties, according to his campaign.
The Pennsylvania primary is scheduled for April 24. Check back with Patch for coverage of other local races and more candidate profiles.