(CNN) – Keep your eyes on southwestern Pennsylvania. While it's being overshadowed by higher-profile Senate primaries, a special election Tuesday for a House seat that represents that part of the state has drawn national attention and could have national implications.
And while the winners in the Senate primaries move onto the general election in November, the victor in this contest goes directly to Congress.
Republican Tim Burns is battling Democrat Mark Critz to fill the seat of the late Rep. John Murtha.
The race has stepped up in intensity over the past month, with both campaigns as well as national party committees going up with television ads.
Burns is a businessman and Critz was a longtime aide to Murtha, a fellow Democrat who represented the district for 18 terms until he passed away from complications following gallbladder surgery this year.
Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District, which stretches from Cambria County in west-central Pennsylvania down to the southwestern corner of the state, is considered socially conservative.
In the 2004 presidential election, Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, won the district by 2 points. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, narrowly edged out then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, in the district in 2008, even though Obama carried the state by 10 percent.
Charlie Cook and Stuart Rothenberg, two well-respected, non-partisan political handicappers, both rate the race as a toss-up.
Rothenberg said that Critz should have an advantage in the race "given the large Democratic registration advantage in the district and the district's strong support for the late Rep. John Murtha."
"A Burns victory would be a bad sign for Democrats for the fall," added Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report.
"In some ways, PA-12 seems to be a must-win for Republicans. After all, if they can't win the only district in the country that voted for both John Kerry and John McCain, what does it say about their ability to win other GOP-tilting seats this fall?" said Amy Walters, editor-in-chief of National Journal's The Hotline.
In a sign of just how much is at stake in this race, two high-profile surrogates parachuted into the district last weekend. Former President Clinton campaigned for Critz at a rally in Johnstown while Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts stumped for Burns in Washington, Pennsylvania.
Democratic and Republican officials agree on one thing: This contest will be close.
"This is going to come down to turnout." said National Republican Campaign Committee communications director Ken Spain.
"We expect this race to go right down to the wire," added Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Ryan Rudominer.
The victor in this special election won't have long to celebrate. The winner will have to defend the seat in November.
Murtha was corruption master. America has to be better off without him.
The district seems to have a majority of those that could be called "Reagan Democrats." With that being said, it could go either way. I think that there are enough issues that would keep the seat in the Democrats hands; especially given that the Democrat running worked for Murtha and knows the people in the district.
"The war is post" Murtha who is responsible for the airport to nowhere has been totally supported by the democrats of his area. These democrats should lose power, and NOW! They supported an unprincipled spender and a man who possibly had a brain tumor when he said the Iraq was was lost when anyone can plainly see that the US reached our objectives there. Get rid of these democrats who will destroy our country for the interests of their party.
If critz is a carbon copy of murtha, hope he does not fare well in this election.
The good news is that whoever wins the Murtha pork express has been derailed.
"We expect this race to go right down to the wire,"
If that's the case and it indeed plays out that way, then NEITHER party really gets to claim that it's some massive statement by the "American people" about Obama and the Dems' agenda, which ideology they've decided to support, etc., so the whole premise of the article is total nonsense. Rather, it simply highlights that the populace is pretty much split down the middle right now, with neither party fielding candidates that are capable (or apparently even willing) of generating common ground and consensus or reminding their constituents that, most of the time, compromise in the name of progress is the win, not getting your way or choosing that nothing be done at all if you can't have it.
This is what the GOP has been playing for since January 2009 though: a bitterly divided country with people adamantly taking sides and seeing red, so to speak (pun intended I suppose), unwilling to budge and forgetting that the flag has 3 colors, not just one (again, so to speak). It's how they won back a majority in 1994 and they've been trying to repeat the same strategery. It may work in some ways...politically at least...but it certainly does none of us any good, and if you can't see that, you've probably got your Limbaugh goggles on.