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Which Pennsylvania Candidates Will Weather the Storm?

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Although veteran Rep. Tim Holden boasts the backing of several well-known Democrats, he faces a difficult primary today in a district that is almost 80 percent new turf for him.

Pennsylvania insiders agree the results of today’s Member-vs.-Member primary are as unpredictable as the weather in southwestern Pennsylvania, where the overnight forecast was calling for as much as 8 inches of snow.

“It’s snowing in Pittsburgh now,” Larry Ceisler, a veteran Democratic consultant, said Monday afternoon. “If there’s very bad weather in western Pennsylvania tomorrow, then I think it could have an effect on” the race between Democratic Reps. Jason Altmire and Mark Critz.

The highly anticipated Altmire-Critz primary is just one of two competitive contests for Congressional Democrats in the Keystone State. In northeastern Pennsylvania, veteran Rep. Tim Holden faces a tough primary in the 17th district against wealthy attorney Matt Cartwright.

For these Members, the bad weather means their field and get-out-the-vote operations matter more than ever.

Democrats initially viewed Altmire as the frontrunner in the race because the redrawn 12th district includes about 65 percent of his current territory. The three-term Congressman released a poll earlier this year showing him with a 24-point lead.

But the race tightened significantly in the closing weeks. Last week, an independent poll from Tribune-Review/WPXI-TV showed Altmire with a mere 4-point lead over Critz.

Another sign the race has closed came when both candidates emptied their campaign bank accounts in the final two weeks. Critz even dipped into his own wallet to fund the final days by loaning his campaign $100,000.

Altmire will benefit if the snow falls hard on Critz’s base in Johnstown — a scenario local meteorologists predicted over the weekend. But as of Monday afternoon, a Critz spokesman said the snow wasn’t sticking — yet.

“It looks like we dodged a bullet and the weather isn’t going to be much of a factor at all,” Critz staffer Mike Mikus said.

If Altmire and Holden both lose today, they will join the growing number of Blue Dog Democrats who won’t return to Congress next year.

Holden is seeking re-election in a district that’s almost 80 percent new turf for the 10-term incumbent. As a result, Cartwright has gotten a lot of traction running to Holden’s political left, aided by outside Democratic groups.

“It’s really tough for Holden because he really got the short end of the redistricting deal because so much of the district is new to him,” Ceisler said. “It’s almost as if he’s not the incumbent.”

Holden boasts the backing of several well-known Democrats, including Sen. Bob Casey and, most recently, former Gov. Ed Rendell. He’s also raised significant money — more than $70,000 — from his Congressional colleagues.

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