March 2, 2015 SIGN IN | REGISTER

12th District Race Illustrates Changes in Pennsylvania

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Reps. Mark Critz (above) and Jason Altmire have been working the campaign trail hard in the days leading up to Tuesday's primary.

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. This is the town that Jack built, earmark by earmark, into an oasis of economic development projects for 36 years.

But Tuesday could mark the end of the late Rep. John Murthas (D) empire.

His top aide Rep. Mark Critz (D) has carried the 12th district torch for the past two years since Murthas death. But last year, Republican mapmakers reconfigured the district, forcing Critz into an uphill battle against fellow Democratic Rep. Jason Altmire in the gritty former steel towns surrounding Pittsburgh.

I dont know a whole lot about Critz, except what Ive seen on TV, said Doug Fehr, a 62-year-old Democrat some 75 miles across the district in Altmires base of ritzy McCandless. I do know that he took the Murtha seat. In that area, I think its a good thing. But I dont think it means much out here.

The geography of the new district favors Altmire, with about 66 percent of Democratic primary voters coming from his current turf. But polls show Critz closing the gap in the final days before Tuesdays primary, and now both candidates have turned to focus on their respective bases.

In Johnstown, Critzs defeat would mean the end of the Murtha legacy and the demise of the enterprise commonly known on Capitol Hill as Murtha Inc. On the flip side, his victory would signal that organized labor still carries political weight in the region after decades of decline.

There was also Jack Murtha, and that guy who was with him. That was me, Critz recalled in an interview last week. My name was, Oh, youre Murthas guy. So when I started campaigning two years ago, people were saying, Oh, youre Murthas guy. Well, my name is actually Mark Critz, but, yeah, Im Murthas guy.

Altmire is also aware of the mantle or the burden that being Johnstowns Congressman brings.

Johnstown has not had a Member of Congress that has not lived in Johnstown since World War II, Altmire said. I dont want them to look at me and say, Thats the guy who knocked out our Congressman. I do approach that always in the front of my mind, of trying to make a first impression.

Yet Altmires most recent TV spot refers to Critz as Johnstown Congressman a dig at his colleague intended to energize Altmires base.

Since Murthas death in early 2010, there have been significant changes for Johnstown. For one, Members dont earmark funds anymore like the Pennsylvania power player did for decades.

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