Politics: Campaign 2012

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June 7, 2011, 8:40 p.m.

Con­duc­ted 10/1-5; sur­veyed 1,129 adults; mar­gin of er­ror +/- 2.9% (re­lease, 10/7).

Fav/Un­fav

- All Dem GOP Ind 9/14 8/24 S. Pal­in 22%/48% 6%/73% 44%/22% 21%/44% 21%/46% 23%/40%

Do You Think Pal­in Would Have The Abil­ity To Be An Ef­fect­ive POTUS?

- All Dem GOP Ind 4/12 Yes 22% 8% 39% 22% 26% No 64 81 45 64 63

(For more from this poll, please see today’s CBS NEWS story.)

Though lar­ger cit­ies will send more voters to the polls, none in Pennsylvania’s 12th Dis­trict has the same his­tory of in­flu­ence as John­stown. The city has seen bet­ter days, but it is still the un­of­fi­cial cap­it­al of the 12th Dis­trict, and wheth­er John­stown re­tains some of its his­tor­ic­al clout will de­term­ine the out­come next week of the mem­ber-versus-mem­ber Demo­crat­ic fight between Reps. Jason Alt­mire and Mark Critz.

The latest in­carn­a­tion of the 12th Dis­trict snakes west from John­stown and the sur­round­ing area to Beaver County along the Ohio bor­der, passing through Pitt­s­burgh’s north­ern sub­urbs. Alt­mire hails from this re­gion, and he brings more of his cur­rent con­stitu­ents to the newly re­dis­tric­ted seat — more than 450,000, nearly two-thirds of the dis­trict’s total. Critz’s John­stown base, in Cam­bria and Somer­set counties, brings far few­er sup­port­ers to the con­test.

That ad­vant­age should be enough to power an Alt­mire vic­tory, if he can hold serve with his own base. But the vic­tors in the two mem­ber-versus-mem­ber House primar­ies thus far — in Illinois and Ohio — won not only by run­ning up the score in their home ter­rit­ory, but by pre­vent­ing their op­pon­ents from win­ning as dra­mat­ic­ally on their turf. John­stown’s de­clin­ing but long-stand­ing polit­ic­al in­flu­ence in south­west­ern Pennsylvania has made Alt­mire wary of seem­ing too ag­gress­ive in Critz’s neigh­bor­hood, leav­ing an open­ing for Critz to rack up big mar­gins in that sec­tion of the dis­trict.

Alt­mire may claim more of the new 12th Dis­trict, but the seat has be­longed to John­stown for dec­ades. A John­stown res­id­ent has rep­res­en­ted the city in Con­gress con­tinu­ously since just after World War II. Be­fore Critz, it was his ex-boss, con­stitu­ent-ser­vices le­gend John Murtha, who held the seat from 1974 un­til his death in 2010. Murtha had re­placed a 24-year vet­er­an Re­pub­lic­an, John Saylor, who was a stu­dent in John­stown’s pub­lic schools and then city so­li­cit­or be­fore com­ing to Con­gress.{{ BIZOBJ (photo: 16953) }}

John­stown might be more than 180 miles from Wash­ing­ton, but its re­la­tion­ship with the na­tion’s cap­it­al has long been closer than that. Giv­en the com­fort of his struc­tur­al ad­vant­age, Alt­mire has been mind­ful of up­set­ting that spe­cial re­la­tion­ship too brusquely. “I know their mem­ber of Con­gress has al­ways been a res­id­ent of John­stown,” Alt­mire said. “I’m try­ing to in­tro­duce my­self in a way that doesn’t ap­pear like I’m try­ing to knock out their con­gress­man. That’s not what it’s about.”

Alt­mire has gone about that task partly by fo­cus­ing less on Cam­bria and Somer­set, pre­fer­ring to shore up his size­able base to the west. Critz must erode Alt­mire’s sup­port to win the primary, and Alt­mire con­sciously chose not to push as hard in Critz’s neck of the woods, be­cause he doesn’t have to. “When I’m in those areas, I’m very cau­tious,” Alt­mire said.

But the num­ber of voters Critz has to peel off in Alt­mire’s ter­rit­ory is dir­ectly re­lated to how big a mar­gin Critz can squeeze out of the John­stown re­gion, and his cam­paign plans to make every voter count there. Critz’s team pre­dicts primary turnout to be around 25 per­cent dis­trict-wide, but they want to boost Cam­bria County’s turnout to about one-third to set up a path to vic­tory.

Mean­while, Critz and his uni­on al­lies will work to erode Alt­mire’s sup­port in the rest of the dis­trict. The most re­cent WPXI-TV/Pitt­s­burgh Tribune-Re­view sur­vey shows Alt­mire with his nar­row­est-ever  lead, 43 per­cent to 39 per­cent. Critz’s show­ing in the poll was built on a found­a­tion of 80 per­cent-plus sup­port in Cam­bria and Somer­set, but it also sug­gests he has made in­roads in the rest of the dis­trict by ques­tion­ing Alt­mire’s loy­alty to key Demo­crat­ic Party and labor prin­ciples, hold­ing Alt­mire un­der 60 per­cent in Al­legheny and Beaver Counties, which have the bulk of the dis­trict’s un­de­cided voters.

Critz’s strategy mir­rors that of pre­vi­ous mem­ber-against-mem­ber primary vic­tors this year. Marcy Kaptur de­feated fel­low Demo­crat Den­nis Ku­cinich in Ohio’s 9th Dis­trict on the back of 94 per­cent of the primary vote in her home base, Toledo’s Lu­cas County. By con­trast, Ku­cinich could “only” man­age three-quar­ters of the vote in Clev­e­land’s Cuyahoga County. Weeks later, Rep. Adam Kin­zinger, R-Ill., beat Rep. Don Man­zullo by sweep­ing the south­ern counties of their 16th Dis­trict by more than 80 per­cent. Mean­while, Kin­zinger held Man­zullo to 72 per­cent in Win­nebago County, Man­zullo’s base and the dis­trict’s biggest in­di­vidu­al prize.

But Kaptur had a struc­tur­al ad­vant­age, hav­ing rep­res­en­ted nearly half her dis­trict be­fore. Like Critz, Kin­zinger star­ted with the dis­ad­vant­age of hav­ing rep­res­en­ted only some 30 per­cent of the new dis­trict, but Man­zullo brought slightly less than a ma­jor­ity of his old con­stitu­ents with him to the merged-seat race. Alt­mire brings a much more se­cure two-thirds to Pennsylvania’s 12th Dis­trict, which is why he de­cided to fo­cus on his own ter­rit­ory in his cam­paign.

That ini­tial mar­gin presents a much high­er bar for Critz to clear to win this primary. As a res­ult, Critz’s strategy in­cludes hold­ing Alt­mire to much lower totals, un­der 60 per­cent, in Alt­mire’s base counties.

But be­fore Critz’s cam­paign looks west for those res­ults next Tues­day, the race will turn on wheth­er the smal­ler John­stown area can give him a chance by punch­ing above its weight. The city has got­ten used to send­ing one of its own to Con­gress, and old habits die hard in West­ern Pennsylvania.

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