Last spring Rep. Mark Critz of Johnstown did what many thought was the unthinkable. He defeated House colleague Jason Altmire in the Democratic primary after the two had been pitted together in a politically redesigned 12th District.
Now Mr. Critz faces another formidable foe, Republican Keith Rothfus, an Edgeworth attorney who came within inches of victory two years ago.
On Nov. 6 the district that winds through six counties -- southern Lawrence, all of Beaver, northern Allegheny, northern Westmoreland, southern Cambria and northern Somerset -- will elect one of these two high-contrast candidates.
If voters favor bipartisan solutions to the nation's problems and want to help end the gridlock in Washington, the choice is Mark Critz.
Many of Mr. Rothfus' positions are steeped in Tea Party nostrums. He wants to change what he calls "government on steroids" and has signed the Grover Norquist pledge against raising taxes. Although he says government must go on a diet, he is very protective of spending on the military, veterans and the elderly.
It's hard to imagine how deeply Mr. Rothfus would cut other programs if such large parts of the budget go unscathed and taxes can't be raised, even on millionaires, to help close the deficit. He also would repeal the Obama health care reform, which extends coverage to millions of previously uninsured Americans, without any detailed plan for its replacement. He'd replace Medicare for those under 55 with a government voucher so every retiree would shop for their own insurance.
On the business side, he is a free trade advocate, saying 90 percent of the world's consumers are outside the United States and that markets must be kept open. Of lower priority to Mr. Rothfus appears to be protecting American jobs against predatory free-trade practices by foreign countries.
Mr. Critz, fortunately, sees it differently. A centrist Democrat who calls himself pro-life, pro-gun and pro-coal (all like Mr. Rothfus), the congressman knows the difference between free and fair trade and believes government must act when jobs are being threatened by unfair overseas competition.
He believes a balanced approach involving taxes and spending cuts must be used to solve the nation's debt problem. He opposes "ending Medicare as we know it," which is what he says his challenger favors, and would work to sustain the program as is. He has voted against repeal of Obamacare, saying that although the plan is not perfect it has extended health care to millions who otherwise could not afford it; he favors making improvements to the overhaul as time goes on.
Mr. Rothfus has built a campaign on hopes and promises in which the details don't add up. Mark Critz is a real-world congressman who wants to help his district and solve the nation's problems. For that he has earned the Post-Gazette endorsement.
First Published October 23, 2012 4:00 AM