Pennsylvania’s new map pits incumbent Democrats in primary

Congressional redistricting will claim another casualty Tuesday when Reps. Mark S. Critz and Jason Altmire square off in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary.

Mr. Critz, 50, has represented western Pennsylvania’s Congressional District 12 since 2010. But the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania General Assembly significantly redrew the state’s congressional boundaries last year to force a primary battle for the seat with Mr. Altmire, 44.

The decennial redistricting process has altered the congressional map nationwide and influenced several House members to choose retirement rather than face a precarious primary or general election battle against a fellow incumbent.

“Redistricting [for 2012] has forced a higher than usual number of members to face off against one another,” said David Wasserman, who covers House races for the Cook Political Report.

Both candidates were considered rising Democratic stars when first elected. Mr. Altmire, then a political newcomer, beat Republican Rep. Melissa Hart in 2006 in a race initially considered a lock for the incumbent. Mr. Critz, a former aide to longtime Rep. John P. Murtha, won a special election to complete the congressman’s term following his death in 2010.

The majority of the new District 12 lies within Mr. Altmire’s current District 4, and he enjoyed double-digit poll leads earlier in the campaign. But the race recently tightened, reflected by the results of a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review/WPXI-TV poll released last week showing Mr. Altmire with only a 4 percentage-point lead.

Mr. Critz’s surging poll numbers correspond with key endorsements he picked up from labor unions and former President Bill Clinton.

“I am proud to endorse Mark Critz for Congress,” said Mr. Clinton in a written statement released by the Critz campaign. “I know that Mark will continue his work to create jobs, strengthen the middle class, to protect Social Security and Medicare and do what is right for Western Pennsylvania and our nation.”

The AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees also have backed Mr. Critz.

“He’s the best candidate to represent the over 100,000 union members in [the district] who are looking for someone to fight for jobs and an economy that works for everyone,” said Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Richard Bloomingdale.

Unions are particularly upset with Mr. Altmire for his vote against the Democrats’ health care reform law in 2010.

Yet the Tribune-Review/WPXI survey showed Mr. Altmire leads by 7 percentage points among voters in union households, which include most of the district’s Democrats.

“A Critz win would be a significant upset and would prove the power of Bill Clinton and big labor in western Pennsylvania,” Mr. Wasserman said.

James Lee, president of Susquehanna Polling and Research, which conducted the survey, said the race will be a “great case study in whether or not the union endorsement matters in a Democratic primary.”

“If they can’t close a 4-point gap, then I think the message from that is, you really have to question what the union endorsement is worth,” he said.

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