The United Steelworkers union announced its support this morning of U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown, in the increasingly competitive race for the new 12th congressional district.
Republican mapmakers combined the seats of Mr. Critz and fellow Democratic incumbent Jason Altmire of McCandless, forcing them to face off in the state's primary April 24th. The endorsement by the union, and its 32,000 active and retired members, should help Mr. Critz introduce himself to voters in Mr. Altmire's backyard in suburbs north of the city.
"Mark has always been there, not just for the Steelworkers union, but for working families," said union president Leo Gerard at the announcment at union headquarters Downtown.
Every local union president in the new district (which includes parts of Allegheny, Beaver, Cambria, Cambria, Lawrence, Somerset and Westmoreland counties) endorsed Mr. Critz, and the union has committed to do phone banks, mailers and door-knocking on the candidate's behalf. Steelworker and retiree volunteers will also phone members of other unions to urge support of Mr. Critz, the USW's political director Tim Waters said.
Not a word was said about Mr. Altmire at the event, as union officials said they hoped to keep the primary campaign a positive one. The most heated rhetoric came when talking about fighting for manufacturing and working class jobs.
Mr. Critz was a former aide to late Rep. Jack Murtha, and the candidate said Mr. Murtha taught him that "sometimes you have to throw elbows. You have to stick your neck out. And I haven't been afraid to fight anyone when it comes to the values of working men and women, and our seniors."
Labor support is key for Mr. Critz in his primary battle with Mr. Altmire, who currently represents more of the new district than Mr. Critz, has been in Congress longer, and at last count had more campaign funds. Mr. Critz has lately announced endorsements too from the United Mine Workers and the Laborers District Council of Western Pennsylvania.
On the Republican side, state Minority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, is set to officially join the race for the 12th District sometime this week, facing off against Edgeworth attorney Keith Rothfus, who came within 2 points of beating Mr. Altmire in 2010.