Washington (CNN) - The mountains and valleys of southwestern Pennsylvania seem a world away from Washington, but they may soon be the scene of a fierce campaign battle between Democrats and Republicans.
Monday's death of Democratic Rep. John Murtha triggers a special election for his office, and conventional wisdom says the GOP has a good chance to pick up a House seat.
While Murtha rarely had any serious challenges in his 18 re-election contests, his party doesn't dominate what's considered a socially conservative district, which stretches from Cambria County in west-central Pennsylvania down to the southwestern corner of the state.
In the 2004 presidential election, Sen. John Kerry won Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District by 2 percentage points. But Sen. John McCain narrowly edged out Barack Obama in that district in the 2008 presidential contest, even though Obama carried the state by 10 percent. The 12th was the only congressional district Kerry won in 2004 that McCain carried four years later.