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Lawmakers Struggling Through Pennsylvania Redraw

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Reps. Jason Altmire (above) and Tim Murphy might face off after redistricting.

Pennsylvania Republicans will release the state's new Congressional map within a few weeks, and their intent remains to force Democratic Reps. Jason Altmire and Mark Critz to face off in a primary.

But what about beyond that? Republicans are grappling with the details of that redrawn Southwestern Pennsylvania district, including how to make the seat more competitive in the general election.

"I think it's the calm before the storm here," Pennsylvania GOP consultant Christopher Nicholas said. "The talk has always been, 'Let's put Critz and Altmire together.' But then there has to be a general election, too."

The district is one of the map's remaining tension points between state legislators in Harrisburg and the Congressional delegation. Additionally, Republicans are struggling to shore up GOP Members in Southeastern Pennsylvania, while assuaging Rep. Joe Pitts, the dean of the GOP delegation.

"I was there 10 years ago in the state Senate when we went through redistricting," Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) said. "Believe me, state legislators feel very strongly about their authority to make decisions on that legislation, and they really don't want people telling them what to do."

In many ways, the infamous 2002 Pennsylvania redistricting still haunts today's process. In this round of redrawing lines, Republicans have two mantras: Don't get greedy, and don't force another matchup like Rep. George Gekas (R) versus Rep. Tim Holden (D). Republicans drew the pair together, thinking Holden would lose to Gekas in the GOP-leaning district in 2002. But the Democrat didn't, and Holden has easily held on to the seat since.

But some Washington, D.C., Republicans believe that might be exactly what state lawmakers are planning in Southwestern Pennsylvania. The speculation centers around the suburban North Hills, a wealthy GOP-leaning area north of Pittsburgh and near Altmire's home. If North Hills is drawn into the district of Rep. Tim Murphy (R), Republicans fear Altmire could challenge him instead of Critz.

"We are looking at Tim Holden, version two. And that really scares us," one Washington, D.C.-based Republican operative warned. "We have someone locally who may be forcing the map in that direction, by putting the North Hills" in Murphy's district.

Sources said that state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, an influential player in the redraw, is guiding the process in that direction. They accused Turzai of either eyeing a future run himself or paving the way for his ally in the state Legislature, Rep. Jim Christiana (R), to run against Critz or Altmire.

"If you dump the North Hills into Murphy's seat, you're kind of daring Altmire to make a choice," another Pennsylvania Republican said.

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