Rep. Holden, dean of Pa. House members, unseated

Apr 25, 2012, 7:07 AM

Associated Press

STATE COLLGE, Pa. (AP) – U.S. Rep. Tim Holden, Pennsylvania’s longest-serving congressman, lost his re-election bid in the Democratic primary, while Rep. Mark Critz beat fellow Democratic incumbent Rep. Jason Altmire in another contest that shook up the state’s House delegation.

Newly-configured congressional district lines put in place by the Republican-controlled state Legislature affected the dynamics in each closely-watched race.

Holden, who was elected to Congress in 1992 and was one of its conservative, so-called Blue Dog Democrats, lost Tuesday to personal injury attorney Matt Cartwright, who spent nearly $400,000 in the race.

Asked to assess his victory, Cartwright said “It’s a combination of things, number one, the redistricting, and number two, my own core political beliefs are a much better fit for the new district.”

In the U.S. Senate primaries, Democrat Bob Casey of Scranton easily beat a little-known challenger in his bid for a second six-year term in office. His Republican challenger will be wealthy former coal company owner Tom Smith of Armstrong County, who largely self-financed his victory in a bitter, five-way race in which he trounced the candidate endorsed by Gov. Tom Corbett and the state GOP.

Cartwright won 57 percent to 43 percent on a night when most of the state’s other U.S. House incumbents went unchallenged or cruised to victories in the primary.

“This is Matt Cartwright’s night and he ran a good race,” Holden said in a statement issued through his campaign spokesman, Eric Nagy.

Cartwright’s campaign hit Holden with allegations that he was too conservative for the district’s voters, citing his vote against the health care overhaul backed by President Barack Obama.

But Cartwright also benefited from the new congressional district boundaries redrawn to add tens of thousands more Democrats and the newly added cities of Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Easton.

The new boundaries apparently left Holden vulnerable among the new crop of voters. Only about one-quarter of the new district is currently represented by Holden.

Democrats now outnumber Republicans by 24 percentage points in the new district, whereas the GOP held a four-point registration edge in Holden’s current district.

As a Blue Dog Democrat, Holden belonged to a coalition in Washington that includes moderate and conservative Democrats lobbying for greater fiscal responsibility.

Cartwright, 50, had name recognition in the important Scranton media market after long running ads for his Moosic law firm. He has proudly called himself “an old-school Roosevelt Democrat.”

Holden had the support of Casey as well as the mayors of Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Easton.

But it didn’t matter against Cartwright. Nagy said a combination of redistricting, Cartwright’s fundraising and national interest group support, coupled with an anti-incumbent sentiment throughout the country created a “perfect storm” against Holden.

Cartwright will face Scranton tea party activist Laureen Cummings in the fall. Cummings, a nurse and small business owner from Old Forge, was the only Republican on the primary ballot. Nagy said Holden pledged his support to Cartwright when calling to concede.

Critz topped Altmire to become the Democratic nominee in the newly created 12th Congressional District that stretches from Johnstown to areas north and east of Pittsburgh.

The 44-year-old Altmire and 40-year-old Critz were like-minded Democrats before redistricting combined their previously separate districts. Like Holden, Altmire was a Democratic Blue Dog Coalition member. He drew support from small businesses and the ire of unions for his vote against the federal health care overhaul in 2010.

Altmire was seen as a favorite in the race early on. About two-thirds of the new district is already represented by Altmire under the old boundary lines, a demographic advantage Altmire hoped would help carry him to victory.

Critz was buoyed by strong support from organized labor including the United Steelworkers, key endorsements in blue-collar western Pennsylvania. The former top aide to his powerful predecessor, the late Rep. John Murtha, was also endorsed by former President Bill Clinton.

“With the help of labor, we were able to make inroads in the new parts of the district,” Critz said.

Critz will face Republican lawyer Keith Rothfus in the November election after beating Altmire 52 to 48.

“It’s no fun running against someone from your party,” Critz added.

Altmire won 70 percent of the vote in Allegheny County, which he currently represents, but lost 91 to 9 in Critz’s power base of Johnstown and Cambria County. Johnstown was new ground for Altmire.

“What turned the tide in the race was the performance in Johnstown. It’s not as though they came into my district and turned my constituents against me,” Altmire said. “I’m completely at peace with what occurred. Mark deserves to win and Johnstown turned out for him.”

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Rep. Holden, dean of Pa. House members, unseated