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Loyalties Lie With Mark Critz in Pennsylvania Primary

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Rep. Jason Altmire (above) joined the House as an outsider, while Rep. Mark Critz was a longtime staffer of the late Rep. John Murtha.

An underdog and outsider in 2006, Altmire upset then-Rep. Melissa Hart (R) in a Republican-leaning district in suburban Pittsburgh. He’s successfully won re-election by compiling a moderate voting record and profile in Congress.

Most memorably, Altmire voted against Democrats’ health care overhaul, a vote that many Pennsylvania insiders say saved his 2010 re-election. But Altmire’s decision irked Democrats who felt he held them out to dry with his last-minute and closely held decision to vote “nay.”

These days, instead of hanging out in the Pennsylvania corner of the House floor, Altmire sits with fellow Blue Dog Democrats, such as Reps. Mike Ross (Ark.) and Heath Shuler (N.C.), during votes. And as of last week, Altmire said he hasn’t asked anyone in the delegation for support.

“I have not had a conversation with anybody in the delegation about supporting either of us in the race,” Altmire said. “It comes up — ‘How’s it going?’ — that kind of thing. But I have not asked or had any kind of conversation with anybody.”

The split between the two Democrats boiled over last week when Altmire released a TV ad criticizing Critz for voting present instead of against the Republican Study Committee’s budget in 2011.

But Critz and his fellow Democrats quickly cried foul. In a tactic designed to help the RSC budget pass, Democratic House leaders urged Members to vote present on the fiscal 2012 budget. Brady and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) took Altmire to task for his spot, and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) released a statement defending Critz.

Despite this, many Members remain quiet about their support in this redistricting-forced contest.

Member-vs.-Member contests are unpredictable, and turnout in this primary is expected to be especially low given the dearth of Democratic contests higher on the ballot.

The redrawn 12th district’s geography helps Altmire because it includes more of his current territory. But just last month, freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) stunned longtime Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.) in a redrawn district that favored the latter on paper.

“With no statewide campaign having a major ground game to drive turnout, this is all going to come down to Critz and his endorsements,” Democratic consultant Daren Berringer said. “Organized labor has wanted to send Altmire a payback message for a while, and if they run their operation at full tilt, Critz could pull this out.”

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