September 6th, 2010
07:55 AM ET
10 years ago

CNN 100: Newest House Dem tries to hold Murtha seat

 The CNN 100 takes a look at the top 100 House races, from now until Election Day.

The CNN 100 takes a look at the top 100 House races, from now until Election Day.

Editor's Note: In the final 100 days before Election Day, CNN has been profiling one race at random each day from among the nation's top 100 House races, which we've dubbed "The CNN 100." Read the full list here . Today's featured district is:

Pennsylvania 12 – Rep. Mark Critz is seeking his first full term
Primary: May 18, 2010
Location: Southwestern Pennsylania
Days until Election Day: 57

The death of 18-term Democratic Rep. John Murtha earlier this year created an opening for Republicans to take over his socially conservative southwestern Pennsylvania district. Despite predictions that the Democrats' 36-year lock on this seat would come to an end, long-time Murtha aide Mark Critz prevailed in the May special election to succeed his late boss, defeating Republican businessman Tim Burns by a surprisingly comfortable 8-point margin. This November, Critz and Burns will face off against each other for a full term, their second head-to-head match-up for this seat in just six months.

During the special election campaign, Burns attempted to tie Critz to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the national party's policy agenda, but Critz countered by pointing out his opposition to the Democratic health care reform plan and describing himself in campaign ads as being "pro-life and pro gun." After only three months in Congress, Critz has demonstrated a willingness to buck his party on some key votes. He was one of only 19 Democrats to vote against the Wall Street reform package.

Burns outspend Critz in the special election, $1.7 million to $1.3 million, after loaning himself $380,000 from his personal funds. The two candidates began the general election campaign evenly matched in terms of campaign warchests. As of mid-year, Critz had $166,000 in the bank compared to $163,000 for Burns.

Pennsylvania's 12th district is located in western Pennsylvania, stretching in a seemingly-random series of squiggles from the extreme southwestern corner of the state to Murtha's long-time base of Johnstown. Much of the area has deep roots in the coal and steel industries and helps define the term "Rust Belt," but there are many scenic areas, including the Laurel Highlands, where well-to-do families from the Pittsburgh area have traditionally had vacation homes. In 2008, Murtha made headlines when he told a local newspaper that there was "no question that western Pennsylvania is a racist area."

The region has become increasingly competitive in presidential elections over the last ten years. In 2000, Democrat Al Gore carried a similarly drawn district with 55 percent, while George W. Bush received 44 percent. Four years later, Bush improved his performance in the newly drawn district but still lost to Democrat John Kerry, 51 percent to 49 percent. In 2008, Republican John McCain barely edged President Obama here, 49.4 percent to 49 percent. Pennsylvania's 12th is the only congressional district in the country to have voted for Kerry in 2004 and for McCain in 2008. Despite this increasingly Republican-friendly voting trend, Democrat Critz defeated Republican Burns in the May special election 53 percent to 45 percent.

Though Critz is coming off a decisive win, the 12th district has become too much of a swing region to be taken for granted, especially by a freshman Democratic incumbent in a midterm cycle that historically has punished members of the party holding the White House. Burns is a credible candidate who has reached into his own pockets in the past to help fund his campaign and could benefit from a national Republican wave. Nonetheless, Critz has taken steps to insulate himself from the national Democratic party, which may explain why he is not one of the GOP's top targets this year.

- CNN Polling Director Keating Holland contributed to this report.

Filed under: 2010 • CNN 100
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. DENNA

    Here's another seat that the Rethugs want to 'win'. Do they even care about America or do they just want to win. The Rethugs, Glen Beck, Limbaugh, the Tea Partiers have a philosophy that ruined this country. And do the Rethugs have a real plan to get America working again, or are the just in it for the power. Once they are in power, will they actually do anything for America, or will they just spend the time gloating and making things hard for President Obama? I'm guessing that if America returns them to power, our "reward" will be more of the thing that got us here to begin with. They have mentioned no plans, just let us know that they hate President Obama. After how they failed America, they should be ashamed to show their faces.


    September 6, 2010 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  2. Anne P. CA

    Yes, and the polls had McCain on top near the very end as well, so what? Do we know who is polled; what'd the demographic? No one I know has ever been polled. Who sits home during the day to answer a land line anyway; those out of a job and pissed or retired? I lost my job 5 yrs. ago (yes, under Bush and thanks to Carly Fiorina), but got a new one. Was it tough? Yes. Was it impossible? No, but I had to learn some new skills. The media is largely responsible for this crap. Why would any sane voter put those who created this mess back in power? Blaming Obama for lost jobs and everything else under the sun has become vogue and so completely irrational, but makes for a good target for the GOP and the media. Why would we put the GOP back in power? They have no fresh solutions; only agenda is to see Obama fail and Wall St. go unregulated. It's time for small business and the middle class. Why do they oppose job creation bills? The GOP clearly does not have interest in us middle class, yet most don't see this; they just believe the GOP BS. I don't get it.

    September 6, 2010 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  3. Drunken GOP Drivers want the keys back

    You can see the "stars and bars" flying in parts of this district and hear banjos playing nears its rivers.

    September 6, 2010 10:44 am at 10:44 am |