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.