This past week, I made two trips to western Pennsylvania to cover the crucial May 18 special election in the 12th District, formerly represented by Jack Murtha, whose Feb. 8 death created an open seat where the latest Daily Kos poll shows Republican Tim Burns now pulling ahead by 6 points in a hard-fought battle against Democrat Mark Critz. (National Review‘s Jim Geraghty says, “And if DK/R2000 are still using the same 2008 turnout model that all their other polls have used, Burns is actually up by a few points more.” ) Despite the encouraging news, this should be a down-to-the-wire fight in a district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1.
It’s hard to overstate just how important this election is, in terms of whether (a) the Tea Party movement will be a real political force in the mid-term campaign this fall or (b) that whole Scott Brown thing in January was just a fluke. With so much at stake, Republicans are mounting a massive effort in PA12.
This is the call center near campaign headquarters in Washington, Pa., where about two dozen phones were in operation Friday, as volunteers contacted voters throughout the district.
The candidate talks with volunteers at the call center.
Douglas Cannon, 20, from Boca Raton, Fla., is a student at Washington & Jefferson College in Pennsylvania. This kid’s so fast on the phone, the camera blurred!
This is enthusiastic Burns volunteer Margaret, an immigrant from Scotland who’s only been a U.S. citizen for four years. She says, “I love the Constitution, and I don’t want it changed!”
Interviewing campaign staffer Jonathan Gohrband at the call center, an operation involving advanced sophisticated technology so top-secret that I’m not allowed to describe it, even if I could possibly understand how it works.
Everybody’s watching this district as a bellwether, because PA-12 is home to so many of the working-class voters whose support the Republicans must win back if they are to win the 40+ seats necessary to recapture a House majority in November. As Jay Cost of the Weekly Standard notes, it’s not quite accurate to call them “Reagan Democrats,” since this region was twice carried by Jimmy Carter in 1976 and ’80 and by Walter Mondale in ’84. Bill Clinton carried this region twice, Kerry won it in 2004, and Hillary Clinton stomped Obama 2-to-1 here in the 2008 Democratic primary. (Hillary carried Greene and Fayette counties by 3-to-1 margins.)
That’s when Obama described these small-town Pennsylvanians as bitter gun-clingers. The McCain-Palin ticket carried the 12th District in November 2008, and the anti-Obama phenomenon among some Democrats here is quite real. While I was at Burns campaign HQ Friday, I interviewed a registered Democrat from Fayette County who stopped by the office to pick up a yard sign. This was a blue-collar working man who had voted for Murtha in the past, but who has no use at all for the agenda currently being pushed by Obama and Nancy Pelosi. Democrats are pouring in money for Critz:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) hosted a fundraiser in Washington on April 20 for Critz, a former Murtha aide. . . .
Since winning the backing of the Democratic Party to run for Murtha’s seat in the May 18 special election, Critz raised $ 376,088 in the last couple of months.
Democrats are running blatantly deceptive ads against Burns, who is now firing back with this TV ad portraying Critz — quite accurately — as a Washington bureaucrat beholden to Pelosi:
The Burns campaign can count on lots of votes from what one staffer described as “pissed off” Democrats and independents, but the real key will be the ability of Burns to appeal to some of the 12th District’s more affluent voters, who drifted away from the GOP in recent election cycles. A look at the district map may be helpful:
The 12th District is a psychedelic gerrymander on steroids — a Rorshach inkblot, as one campaign source described it — and includes some upscale “exurban” areas in Westmoreland County, east of Pittsburgh. Turning out GOP votes in Westmoreland will be crucial to victory for Burns on May 18. On Election Night, staffers in the campaign “war room” will have a keen eye on returns from those Westmoreland precincts.
Wednesday, I was at Westmont Hilltop High School, where the candidates debated and my buddy Chris Renner got video of both candidates’ closing statements — first Burns, then Critz:
“Do you think Nancy Pelosi would be working so hard to get Mark Critz elected… if she thought for one minute that he was going to vote against her agenda?” Burns said in his final remarks Wednesday, which ended with a cheerful invitation. “I can’t come to Johnstown without stopping at Coney Island for a hot dog, so that’s where we’re going after the debate — maybe I’ll see some of you there.”
— “Special Time in Pennsylvania,” The American Spectator
Burns shakes hands with the loser of the debate.
Burns is congratulated by supporters after the debate, and he was as good as his word about the post-debate celebration at Coney Island Lunch . . .
The diner is a landmark in downtown Johnstown, where I got this video of the hometown candidate describing the speciality of the house:
Tim Burns for Congress campaign headquarters is at 157 S. Main Street in Washington, Pennsylvania.
Uprisings against oppressive government are kind of a local tradition, you might say. Here’s a video about this latest Pennsylvania Patriot revolution:
This is Angela Lash, outreach coordinator for the campaign, whose job Friday was to deal with “that crazy blogger guy,” as Tim Burns now calls me. The Pennsylvania Patriot revolution needs volunteers for their army. To learn more, visit TimBurnsForCongress.com, or e-mail the campaign or call 814-619-3414.