Altmire in the 12th: It's a tough call between Democratic incumbents

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No doubt about it, the most difficult primary choice in Western Pennsylvania is the one facing Democrats in the 12th Congressional District.

It's Jason Altmire vs. Mark Critz, two incumbents pitted together by the crafty Republicans who redesigned the state's congressional map. They are locked in a political duel to the death, with the April 24 loser packing up his Capitol Hill office at year's end, while the winner gets to run in the fall against Republican Keith Rothfus.

The district looks like a malnourished hammerhead shark winding through six counties: southern Lawrence, all of Beaver, northern Allegheny, northern Westmoreland, southern Cambria and northern Somerset.

Given the similar records that cast Mr. Altmire of McCandless and Mr. Critz of Johnstown as conservative Democrats, many voters will have a tough time telling them apart. Not so the Post-Gazette, which favors Mr. Altmire for the nomination.

Seeking his fourth term, Mr. Altmire, 44, disappointed many of his constituents, along with this editorial board, when he voted two years ago against the Affordable Care Act, a high priority for President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats.

Mr. Critz, 50, worked then for late Rep. John Murtha, but he says that he, too, would have rejected the plan. Now that the bill is law, both congressmen say they will resist efforts to repeal it.

The similarities don't end there. Both want the United States out of Afghanistan in a way that doesn't sacrifice the military's gains. Both say an Iran with nuclear weapons is unacceptable and that sanctions need a chance to work. Both voted to bar the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases. Both are opposed to abortion.

Some Democrats may see their differences as slight, but we find them significant. Mr. Altmire voted to abolish "don't ask, don't tell," which forced gay soldiers to hide their homosexuality. He said if soldiers are willing to fight and die for their country, they should be able to serve openly. Mr. Critz voted against repeal.

Mr. Altmire has voted "at every opportunity" to fund Planned Parenthood because he sees access to contraception as part of being pro-life. Mr. Critz has voted to deny federal funds.

Mr. Altmire voted yes to ban the use of troops in Libya without Congress' approval; Mr. Critz voted no. Mr. Altmire has cast votes to reduce the use of fossil fuels and develop energy alternatives, while Mr. Critz is more interested in protecting the coal industry.

During their interview with Post-Gazette editorial writers, Mr. Altmire also showed a keener understanding of key legislation.

They may vote the same on many issues and, despite competing in the primary, share a respect for each other. But Democrats should see enough differences to nominate Jason Altmire as their candidate in the 12th District.

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