Pa. Rep. Holden loses; Critz tops Altmire
STATE COLLGE, Pa.—U.S. Rep. Tim Holden, the dean of the Pennsylvania's House delegation, lost his re-election bid in a Democratic primary race in a newly redrawn district Tuesday, and U.S. Rep. Mark Critz won a hotly contested congressional primary against fellow Democratic incumbent Rep. Jason Altmire.
The newly-drawn congressional district lines reconfigured by the Republican-controlled state Legislature played key roles in each high-profile race.
Holden, who was elected to Congress in 1992 and was one of its conservative, so-called Blue Dog Democrats, lost to personal injury attorney Matt Cartwright, who spent nearly $400,000 in the race.
Cartwright's campaign hit Holden with allegations that he was too conservative for the district's voters, citing his vote against President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
But Cartwright also benefited from the new congressional district boundaries redrawn by the Republican-controlled state Legislature to give reconfigured tens of thousands more Democrats and the newly added cities of Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Easton -- areas unfamiliar to Holden.
Democrats now outnumber Republicans by 24 percentage points in the new district, where as the GOP held a four-point registration edge in Holden's current district. Those voters supported a member of the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition in Washington, which includes moderate and conservative Democrats lobbying for greater fiscal responsibility.
The new boundaries apparently left Holden vulnerable among a new crop of voters.
Cartwright, 50, had name recognition in the important Scranton media market after long running ads for his Moosic law firm. He has proudly called himself "an old-school Roosevelt Democrat."
National interest groups have also run ads on behalf of Cartwright, including a League of Conservation Voters campaign that cited what it called Holden's poor environmental record.
Holden had the support of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Scranton native, as well as the mayors of Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Easton.
It didn't matter against Cartwright.
Holden faced a similar challenge following the last round of redistricting a decade ago, but got a close win over his Republican opponent in the general election. He couldn't pull off another tight victory on Tuesday night, falling in his bid for an 11th term.
Cartwright will face Scranton tea party activist Laureen Cummings in the fall. Cummings, a nurse and small business owner from Old Forge, was the only Republican on the primary
Critz topped Altmire to become the Democratic nominee in the newly created 12th Congressional District north and east of Pittsburgh.
The 44-year-old Altmire and 40-year-old Critz were like-minded Democrats before the Legislature and governor approved a redistricting law combining their previously separate districts. It was one of the few congressional contests nationally this primary season pitting sitting House incumbents due to redistricting, so the tense campaign drew interest from political observers.
Like Holden, Altmire was a member of the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition in Washington, which includes moderate and conservative Democrats lobbying for greater fiscal responsibility. He also drew support from small businesses and the ire of unions for his vote against the federal health care overhaul in 2010.
Altmire was seen as a favorite in the race early on. About two-thirds of the new district is already represented by Altmire under the old boundary lines, a demographic advantage Altmire hoped would help carry him to victory.
But Critz was buoyed by strong support from unions including the United Steelworkers, key endorsements in blue-collar western Pennsylvania. The former top aide to his powerful predecessor, the late Rep. John Murtha, was also endorsed by former President Bill Clinton.
Critz attracted heavy support from organized labor and closed the gap in recent weeks. He will face Republican lawyer Keith Rothfus in the November election.
Two other western Pennsylvania won their primaries. Rep. Tim Murphy beat challenger Evan Feinberg in a GOP race, winning by 64 to 46.
Murphy, 59, has served five terms in Congress, representing a diverse district where Democrats hold a slight majority.
Also, Rep. Mike Doyle easily turned away a Democratic primary challenge, beating Janis Brooks, a pastor and head of a local youth program. Doyle will seek a 10th term this November representing his Pittsburgh-area district.