New Castle News

April 22, 2012

John K. Manna: Redistricting may surprise voters

John K. Manna
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Some Lawrence County voters who haven’t paid attention to congressional redistricting may be in for a surprise on Tuesday.

It came to my attention recently that some voters weren’t aware they won’t be able to vote for or against U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire in the primary.

Because Pennsylvania lost a congressional seat as a result of the 2010 census, the Republican-controlled Legislature merged Altmire’s district with U.S. Rep. Mark Critz’s district. Thus, the two are battling one another for the Democratic nomination.

Altmire has represented all of Lawrence County for nearly six years. With the merger, most of the county was placed in the 3rd District, currently represented by U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly of Butler.

The remainder of the district — eight municipalities in the southern part of the county — has been placed in the merged district, known as the 12th. So, only a small portion of Lawrence County’s voters will be able to vote for Altmire or Critz on Tuesday.

According to the county elections office, only 5,844 Democrats live in that part of the county. The remaining 27,056 Democrats live in the 3rd District.

Interestingly, the Altmire-Critz race is the only competitive local contest on Tuesday’s ballot. Voters in the 3rd District will have to wait until November to have a competitive race — between Kelly and Democrat Missa Eaton.

Altmire has noted that 66 percent of the new district, which stretches all the way to Cambria County, includes his current constituents. That statistic, he believes, should make him the favorite to win the party nomination.

Critz has won a number of endorsements from labor organizations, an obvious indication that many union leaders aren’t happy with Altmire. A key vote that angered unions was Altmire’s opposition to the health care bill.

And Critz essentially has tried to portray himself as a better Democrat than Altmire, noting he has voted with the Democratic majority in Congress a higher percentage of the time than his opponent.

The question is whether Democratic voters will vote for someone they believe is the better Democrat or someone they believe can defeat Republican Keith Rothfus in November.

Or, will the race come down to which candidate is the most familiar to the voters?