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April 28, 2012

John K. Manna: Voters go with the candidates they know best

NEW CASTLE —

Tuesday’s primary, at least in western Pennsylvania, proved there’s no place like home.

Or somewhere in the vicinity.

In the battle for survival in the 12th Congressional District, both Rep. Mark Critz and Rep. Jason Altmire did well in their home areas in Tuesday’s primary. Critz, however, did much better in his home area, thus giving him a narrow victory over Altmire for the Democratic nomination.

Before Tuesday, Altmire said 66 percent of his current constituents live in the district that was created by the merger of his 4th District and Critz’s 12th District, and, therefore, would give him a decided advantage.

It obviously didn’t turn out that way, as Critz had credible showings — capturing nearly one-third of the vote — in Beaver and Allegheny counties. Altmire, meanwhile, garnered only 9 percent and 13 percent of the vote in Cambria and Somerset counties respectively.

Nonetheless, one question that was answered on Tuesday was that familiarity with the voters meant a great deal. The central question now is whether Critz has a better chance than Altmire of defeating the Republican candidate, Keith Rothfus, in November.

Rothfus, who was unopposed in the primary, lost to Altmire in 2010 by less than two percentage points. Like Altmire, Rothfus hails from the North Hills area of Allegheny County and faces the same challenge as Critz in getting to be known outside of his comfort zone. However, after going through a rough-and-tumble primary campaign, Critz has the advantage of being battle tested in the new district.

One thing that isn’t clear and obviously won’t be found out until November is whether Rothfus can carry his showing of two years ago into this year’s election.

After all, the number of votes cast in the 2010 congressional race was down by nearly 100,000 from the 2008 election. In 2008, Altmire defeated Melissa Hart by about 39,000 votes. In 2010, he won by less than 4,300 votes.

With the presidency at stake this year, the voter turnout will definitely be higher this November.

 

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