Status quo or no' Critz vs. Burns race building
When Democrat Mark Critz faced Republican businessman Tim Burns in May's special election for the 12th Congressional District seat, the race attracted national attention.
Both sought to fill the unexpired term left by the sudden death in February of Democrat John Murtha, Pennsylvania's longest-serving congressman, and news reporters speculated that a second Democratic stronghold could fall to Republicans after Scott Brown's surprising win in Massachusetts for the late Ted Kennedy's Senate seat.
Yet Critz prevailed. Helped by a 2-to-1 registration advantage and a strong union get-out-the-vote effort, Critz -- Murtha's former district director -- beat Burns by more than 7 percentage points to finish the term.
The national news media largely are ignoring the candidates' Nov. 2 rematch. But people in the district cannot ignore the race: Critz and Burns are saturating television with political ads, filling mailboxes with leaflets and knocking on doors.
Until a few weeks ago, Ernest Mantini, a dentist who lives just south of Johnstown, said he intended to vote for Critz. But like many voters disenchanted with the status quo in Washington, he changed his mind.
"I don't like how one party has all of the power in government," Mantini said. "Maybe with a Republican majority in the House, we can slow things down a bit."
James Cavanaugh of Vandergrift disagrees. He thinks President Obama is doing a fine job, and Cavanaugh's supporting Critz for Congress.
"I don't think people have given the Democrats a chance," said Cavanaugh, 62, a retired truck driver and disabled veteran. "What are they going to do• Things are tough."
Critz of Johnstown plans to tour Bucyrus America's plant in Houston, near Burns' hometown of Eighty Four, on Tuesday with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., to talk about the House's "Make it in America" agenda. Bucyrus America manufactures mining equipment with 300 employees there.
Hoyer's appearance follows two fundraisers Critz held with Democratic leaders: Vice President Joe Biden in Pittsburgh and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in Washington.
Since taking office five months ago, Critz has cast 280 votes -- 265 of them, or 94.6 percent, in line with the majority Democrats' position. Yet, typically, Critz backs away from that association when in his district.
He declares in his latest television ad, for example: "I'm pro-life, pro-gun, and I'll always be an independent voice in Congress."
Burns is campaigning hard to counter Critz's ads labeling him as a "millionaire businessman" with a secret agenda of privatizing Social Security.
"I grew up in a half a double in Johnstown that my parents didn't even own," Burns said during a recent visit to Brownsville in Fayette County. "I went to a state university and was a computer geek."
His love of computer science led to a business that employed more than 400 people in Moon Township before he sold it.
Rather than privatizing Social Security, the Republican said, he would "work to pass a bill to put money back in the Social Security trust fund."
"The biggest concern I hear is: Where are the jobs?" Burns said. He also hears complaints about government spending "and a lot of concern among many of our district's seniors who are facing their second year in a row without a cost-of-living increase in their Social Security benefits."
Indeed, in the district meandering through a small patch of Allegheny County, all of Greene County and large portions of Armstrong, Cambria, Fayette, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties, high unemployment makes jobs and the economy top issues for voters.
"Creating jobs is a complex equation," Critz said from his campaign office in Johnstown, "in that government can play a role by being a partner with state and local governments, with funding coming from (the) private sector."
With unemployment nationally exceeding 9 percent, Critz maintains the White House stimulus program worked as it was supposed to, keeping people employed on infrastructure projects. The Democrat said he's frustrated that corporations and smaller businesses "are sitting on money that could be used to hire people."
Burns said he understands why companies might do that: "There is too much pocketbook uncertainty for them right now because they don't know if they need to adjust for a tax hike or if regulations are on the horizon. And no one knows how the health care reform bill will hit their bottom line."
In Johnstown, the largest municipality in the district, Murtha loomed large for decades. As head of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, he steered defense and military research contracts to companies there.
Still, many people in the district have struggled financially since its manufacturing base eroded in the 1980s and 1990s, said Chris Borick, an associate professor of political science at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. That means "they probably have a little more realistic perspective of what government can and cannot do."
"Although jobs and the economy dwarf any other issue, it may not be the deciding issue when residents go to vote," Borick said. "Which candidate creates the highest energy is still to be determined. Yes, Critz has the built-in advantage of the labor unions, but Republican and independent voters are highly motivated to turn out."Additional Information:
• Mark Critz
Education: Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Occupation: Congressman representing the 12th District
Political party: Democrat
Previous elected office: None
• Tim Burns
Residence: Eighty Four, Washington County
Education: Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Occupation: Small business owner
Political party: Republican
Previous elected office: None
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- DeVry shift to online classes prompts closing of Pittsburgh campus
- Rossi: Crosby, Malkin didn’t sign on for this
- Penguins’ Malkin: ‘We’re not a championship team’
- Cole shuts down Diamondbacks as Pirates open road trip with victory
- Connellsville to host job fair
- Penguins eliminated with Game 5 overtime loss to Rangers
- Couple hope Connellsville shop will attract trail users
- Trail preparation commences in Connellsville
- Fleury valiant in defeat
- Pitt introduces Barnes as athletic director
- Rangers’ defensive plan against Penguins was unwavering