Altmire Out: How to Win or Lose PA-12 in 2014

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With Jason Altmire moving to Jacksonville, Florida to take on a job as a senior vice president for Blue Cross Blue Shield, the field of viable Democratic candidates to run against Congressman-Elect Keith Rothfus in 2014 has narrowed.

(In my estimation, it has narrowed by exactly one half.)

The plain truth is that it takes a special kind of Democrat to win the Franken-district we call PA-12.

This is a district in which President Obama lost by 17 points and Senator Bob Casey lost by 8 points, yet the district has an overall Democratic registration advantage.

How is that possible, you might ask?

To win as a Democrat in the recently-gerrymandered 12th Congressional District, you absolutely have to be pro-coal, pro-gun, and pro-life.  There is no getting around it.

Congressman Mark Critz, who recently lost to Rothfus, is all three of those things and he out-performed both the President and Senator Casey, losing to Rothfus by about 3.5%.

The point is this: it takes a Democrat like Jason Altmire or Mark Critz to win in the 12th District. Given the current configuration, there is no chance that a liberal Democrat can win.

As liberals, we need to suck it up and accept this as fact.  And we need to accept this sooner rather than later.

The worst possible scenario is that an ultra-left candidate wins the Democratic Primary Election in the spring of 2014 instead of a moderate Democrat.  The day after the primary, we can concede the election to Keith Rothfus.

I hope my former boss Mark Critz runs again. But, if he doesn’t decide to run, we can’t go with a liberal candidate who we like instead of a moderate alternative who can win.

If we do not take back the 12th in 2014, we can kiss it goodbye until re-redistricting occurs again in 2022. This is for two main reasons.

First, incumbents are easiest to pick off after their first election, and progressively more difficult to defeat as their time in office increases.

This is a well-developed theory, and I will not unnecessarily expound upon it here.

Instead, I want to focus on a second reason that 2014 is our best chance at getting the 12th District back–the top of the ticket.

In 2014, President Obama will not be at the top of the ticket.  The 12th District is the only district in the country that voted for John Kerry in 2004 and not Barack Obama in 2008.

Want to know why? Ask Jack Murtha.

As I stated earlier, President Obama lost the 12th District by 17 points.  In the 12th District and across southwestern PA, the President was toxic to Democratic candidates running down-ticket.

The President lost Beaver County by 7 points, Cambria by 18, Lawrence by 10, Somerset by 43, and Westmoreland by 23.

Without President Obama on the ticket in the 12th District, there will not be as much Democratic frustration with the Democratic Party.

Equally crucial, however, is the fact that Governor Tom Corbett will be at the top of the ticket.

Currently, Governor Corbett has one of the lowest approval ratings of any Governor in the country.

According to a Quinnipiac poll in October, voters disapproved of Corbett’s performance 42% to 38%. A November poll had Corbett’s approval rating in positive territory, 40% to 38%, mostly because of how the Governor handled Hurricane Sandy.

Still, that is a very slim net-positive.

Furthermore, as Kathleen Kane begins to investigate the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the Attorney General Office’s role (under then-AG Corbett), it is likely that Corbett’s approval ratings will return to the net-negative and probably stay there–even if nothing turns up.

As I’ve said before, Governor Corbett could hang Satan on the steps of the Capitol, and I would still put my money on a generic Democratic candidate to win.

Between losing Obama at the top of the ticket and adding Corbett, coupled with Rothfus’s low incumbent advantage, 2014 is the last, best chance for Democrats to take back the 12th Congressional District.  Given current demographics, it is the only competitive district in the Commonwealth.

We can’t blow this opportunity, and we will blow it in the primary if we choose a liberal Democrat.

As Democrats, we have to come to terms with this now.



J.D. Prose at the Beaver County Times wrote a piece largely agreeing with my arguments, but J.D. took issue with my “knock him out in 2014 or we’re screwed” argument. It is worth quoting J.D. at length:

But, Jake fretted that the seat could be safely GOP for years to come if the Democrats don’t defeat Rothfus in 2014. Not so fast.

Former GOP U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart won three elections in Altmire’s OLD 4th District, which accounts for two-thirds of the NEW 12th District. Hart wore out her welcome with her right-wing stances and blind allegiance to Dubya, leading to her 2006 loss to Altmire.

Rothfus is much more personable than Hart, but just as conservative. Keith has talked about solving problems, but we can see him getting picked off in 2014 if he drinks the House GOP’s Obstruct Everything Kool-Aid.

Of course, the Democrats will need a candidate with name recognition and the chops for a bruising campaign. We’ll keep Critz’s number handy.

You can read the parts where J.D. agrees with me here.

About Jake Sternberger

Jake Sternberger was a contributing writer at Keystone Politics from 2011 to 2014.
This entry was posted in Miscellany.

12 Responses to Altmire Out: How to Win or Lose PA-12 in 2014

  1. Pingback: What Do People Want in a Conservative Democrat? - Keystone Politics

  2. Laura.purnell says:

    Blow this opportunity? You already blew this opportunity by supporting Critz, who Altmire correctly warned could never win in his part of the district. Why would anyone take your advice now when you were proven so wrong already? Altmire is the only one who could beat Rothfus and in fact already did. You (and Critz) hated Altmire for being exactly the type of candidate that you now belatedly realize it takes to win. Too late. You allowed your personal bias to cloud your judgement and now you have to live with the result, probably for years to come.

    • Jake Sternberger says:

      I continue to be baffled–and humbled–by the massive power ascribed to me by angry Altmire supporters.

  3. phillydem says:

    Critz made a mistake NOT running a more economic populist campaign. The gun nuts and anti-abortion religious fanatics aren’t voting for a Democrat no matter how far to the right he or she runs.

    I wouldn’t put much stock in the Obama numbers because the 12th is home to a lot of older bigots and rednecks. They weren’t voting for a black guy.

    Best chance Dems have to pick up this seat is with a local icon like Franco Harris or Chris Heinz.

  4. phillydem says:

    Critz made a mistake NOT running a more economic populist campaign. The gun nuts and anti-abortion religious fanatics aren’t voting for a Democrat no matter how far to the right he or she runs.

    I wouldn’t put much stock in the Obama numbers because the 12th is home to a lot of older bigots and rednecks. They weren’t voting for a black guy.

    Best chance Dems have to pick up this seat is with a local icon like Franco Harris or Chris Heinz or former lt guv, Mark Single

    • Fbeing says:

      phillydem…..I am in PA 12 …there are plenty Progressive Dems here. They don’t vote for Critz’s backward politics. Otherwise, agree with you. Old folks vote here..Younger folks feel left out because politics is not interesting.

      • phillydem says:

        I’m also in PA-12, Beaver County. Yes, there are some progressive and liberal Dems here, but there are far more bigoted and small-minded voters. I supported Critz in the primary because he was marginally better than Altmire. Had Critz focused like a laser on a populist economic message and tagged Rothfus early and often as Mitt-wannabe, he might well have won. Voters in this district don’t like the way the gas drillers are big-footing it around and plenty of people have lost their jobs exactly due to the kind of policies Rothfus believes in. Crtiz needn’t even have changed his Dem primary ads much for them to be effective against Rothfus. Anyway, I predict Rothfus isn’t going to like being a back-bencher for the minority in a couple cycles and will quit.

  5. Miketivist says:

    If the district is so heavily conservative, why bother electing a blue-dog Dem to it?
    Here in VA the progressives sat out the 2010 congressional election when the Dem they fought to elect voted mainly the straight Republican line. They felt that it was not worth their effort to elect a Dem who voted straight Republican when a Republican could do that. Nye wrongly calculated that conservatives would vote for him if he towed their line. The Republican base will never vote for a blue-dog Dem when they can vote for a Republican.

    Electing a blue-dog to PA-12 won’t be what tips the US House to the Democratic Party. & even if it did, there is little value in getting a progressive agenda thwarted by a Dem who mainly votes with the Republican Caucus.

    If you want to win in a district like that, respect the Democratic registrants’ conservative social values and run a campaign mainly on labor and environmental issues.

    • Jon says:

      I hear that, but the main value in getting a Democrat elected to that district is that he’ll vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker and not John Boehner.

    • Jake Sternberger says:

      No Democrat running in PA12 needs to attract GOP votes. That is not the problem.

      The Democrat just has to woo all the conservative Democrats.

      Dems outnumber Repubs in the district, it is just a matter of running the right Democrat.

  6. Marbear4 says:

    Well said Jake… “alls it takes is the right democrat”.
    We know that’s not Critz, that’s fairly OBVIOUS to most people outside of
    Cambria County. Heck, even ask Somerset. Further, and I enjoy your
    posts, but the six year itch is typically bad for the party in power, so I suspect a steady diet
    of Critz -Obama commercials again.

    We had the right democrat in Altmire; You all got your wish and
    Lost. Step aside and give someone else a chance to win.