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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.

The boundaries of Pennsylvania’s redrawn 12th district favor Rep. Jason Altmire over Rep. Mark Critz.

But on Capitol Hill, many Keystone State Democrats quietly hope the underdog Critz will eke out a primary victory later this month.

“I guess what I can tell you is I’m still hanging out in the Pennsylvania corner” of the House floor, Critz told Roll Call.

Many House Democrats remain loyal to Critz because they revered his late boss and predecessor, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.).

Altmire, meanwhile, never cozied up to other Democrats in the delegation after his first election in 2006. He still takes heat from them for his vote against the health care bill two years ago.

Most Democrats in the delegation emphasized their neutrality, at least publicly, ahead of the April 24 primary for the competitive district north of Pittsburgh.

“I’m Switzerland,” Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) said last week. “I think the position of most of the delegation is we’re going to make sure whoever wins the primary wins the general election.”

But last week, Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.) broke ranks and backed Critz.

“I did give Mark Critz a financial contribution,” Brady told reporters. “I am endorsing him also.”

Pennsylvania Democrats view Brady as the unofficial dean of their delegation, and his endorsement carries symbolic weight. Even though he’s not the longest-serving House Democrat from Pennsylvania, aides argued that Brady’s support shows where many Democrats in the delegation stand on the race: More than two years after Murtha’s death, many Members are loyal to Critz, his longtime staffer.

“Most people are rooting for Mark,” one Pennsylvania Democratic staffer said. “There’s clearly a history. A lot of Members worked with Mark when he was a staffer. Mr. Murtha was beloved by the delegation, and I think that merits a certain loyalty.”

Critz worked on Murtha’s official staff beginning in 2001, including serving as his district director for three years. After Murtha died in 2010, Critz won a competitive special election for his seat.

“When I got through that special election, I was adopted by a lot of senior Members,” Critz said. “In the Pennsylvania corner, those guys really took me under their wing. Even though I was Jack Murtha’s guy, I was still a rookie.”

In addition to Brady, Critz remains close with a couple of Pennsylvania Democrats. He dines almost weekly in Washington with Doyle, Rep. Tim Holden (Pa.) and a cadre of other northeastern Democrats.

Meanwhile, Altmire staked out a distinctly different path in Congress.

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