Tuesday's primary election was generally a sleepy affair, but Pittsburghers woke up the next day to find that the few who made their way to the polls -- just 19 percent of those registered in Allegheny County -- had made some surprising choices.
In the 12th Congressional District, two Democrats, Rep. Mark Critz of Johnstown and Rep. Jason Altmire of McCandless, were forced to run against each other in a new district that takes in six far-flung counties.
The geography seemed to favor Mr. Altmire, who won Allegheny, Beaver, Westmoreland and Lawrence counties, but Mr. Critz captured Somerset and Cambria by large margins and pulled off an upset by about 1,600 votes of 62,000 cast.
Mr. Altmire was haunted by his initial vote in 2010 against health care reform, which led to strong union endorsements for Mr. Critz, who was also backed by former President Bill Clinton. He will need all that help again in the fall if he is to defeat Keith Rothfus, a Republican from Allegheny County.
Trouble may loom, too, for the Democrats' holding the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Bob Casey. Tom Smith, a wealthy coal company operator from Armstrong County, won a five-way race for the Republican nomination by making his money speak the loudest. Meanwhile, more than 550,000 Democratic voters supported Mr. Casey, although a shocking 132,000 defected to Joe Vodvarka, an unknown who did not even mount a credible campaign.
U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy handily beat Evan Feinberg, a young upstart candidate with Tea Party sympathies, in the 18th Congressional District. In the contested statewide races, state Rep. John Maher easily won the Republican nomination for auditor general. Democratic voters chose Kathleen Kane over the better-known Patrick Murphy, a former congressman, in the nomination for attorney general.
But the most interesting races were local. In the 24th Legislative District, Rep. Joe Preston, a 15-term incumbent just going through the motions, lost to Ed Gainey in his third run for office. The voters knew it was time: They went almost 2-to-1 for the challenger.
In the ugliest race, D. Raja, the Mt. Lebanon businessman and unsuccessful GOP candidate for county executive, survived the thinly veiled racist ads of state Rep. Mark Mustio and took the nomination in the 37th Senate District. Mr. Mustio had the ignominy of finishing third, a case of just deserts.
In this race and others, the voters may have been few but they were often discerning.
First Published April 26, 2012 12:00 AM