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Poll has Democrat Critz up handily in 12th Congressional District

Republican congressional candidate Tim Burns frequently highlights his entrepreneurial success -- starting a medical technology business in his basement that grew to employ 400 people before he sold it.

That business-owner background doesn't sit well with Dennis Koeck, 67, of Johnstown.

"I don't think he's going to help the working man at all," Koeck said. When a recession hits, he said, the only people who seem to get hurt are the middle class. "There's too many business people I know who have two houses, two cars. Their employees -- that's the first thing to go."

Koeck is among 43 percent of likely voters in the sprawling 12th Congressional District who say they intend to vote for U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown, according to a Susquehanna Polling & Research survey. The poll, conducted for the Tribune-Review, found 36 percent supporting Burns of Eighty-Four, and 21 percent undecided.

The poll of 400 likely voters, conducted Saturday and Sunday, has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.9 percentage points.

Critz beat Burns by 7.6 percentage points in the May special election to fill the unexpired term of the late John Murtha.

Burns "is in a very difficult position, given where he is right now," said Jim Lee, president of Susquehanna Polling & Research. "In a Democratic district like this, I think it becomes essential that these undecided Democratic voters, these swing Democrats, know that he's a viable candidate. This poll doesn't show that he's conclusively made that case."

Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 in the district, which stretches from Cambria County to Washington County, where GOP Sen. John McCain beat Barack Obama by 1 percentage point in 2008. The Susquehanna poll, however, shows 53 percent of voters disapprove of the job Obama is doing, compared to 39 percent who approve.

"I became unemployed after Obama got elected -- not that I think it was all his fault," said Patrick O'Neil, 45, a Democrat from Arnold. He used to work as a production manager for Siemens. He said he's backing Burns. "I think we were better off when things were handled by private industries and for-profit companies."

O'Neil and other Democrats who share his views offer Burns his best chance for victory, Lee said.

"Burns certainly has an opportunity by trying to make this a referendum on Obama, but it's going to be difficult to do that. (Burns) just doesn't have a strong image in the district," Lee said.

Republicans and their allies are trying to tie Critz and other Democratic incumbents to nationally known Democrats such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The strategy isn't working with Andrea Zelenka, 50, of Canonsburg. She's among 52 percent of voters who cite the economy as the country's top problem.

"We have a jobs problem. Everybody's looking at the economy more so than any other issue that's put out there to distract us," said Zelenka, who would prefer a third-party candidate. "We need an alternative."

Pressed on who she's likely to vote for, given the two choices, Zelenka returns to her Democratic roots. "I'm leaning toward Critz," she said.

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