Rothfus upsets Critz in bitter battle for U.S. House
November 7, 2012 9:15 PM
Rep. Mark Critz kisses his wife, Nancy, Tuesday after conceding his re-election bid to challenger Keith Rothfus at the Holiday Inn in Johnstown.
Republican Keith Rothfus, left, hugs a supporter Tuesday night at the Holiday Inn in Ross after winning his congressional seat.
By Jon Schmitz and Timothy McNulty Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Aided by millions of dollars of ads paid for by outside sources, Republican Keith Rothfus narrowly unseated incumbent U.S. Rep. Mark Critz on Tuesday in the 12th Congressional District.
After a night in which Mr. Critz led early, only to see Mr. Rothfus overtake him as the last votes were counted, the incumbent called the challenger to concede.
The 12th District, an elongated exemplar of gerrymandering, stretches from the Ohio line eastward past Johnstown, taking in parts of Allegheny, Beaver, Cambria, Lawrence, Somerset and Westmoreland counties.
Mr. Rothfus, of Sewickley, ran well in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, while Mr. Critz dominated his home turf in Cambria County.
But the vote total in Allegheny County was more than double that in Cambria, giving Mr. Rothfus an edge.
Both men, each age 50, campaigned almost nonstop for three years. Mr. Critz, D-Johnstown, twice won nationally watched elections to replace his late boss, John Murtha, in 2010, and faced off against fellow Democratic incumbent Jason Altmire in a hard-fought primary this spring. Mr. Rothfus, a lawyer who worked briefly in the Department of Homeland Security during the George W. Bush administration, came from nowhere to upend Mary Beth Buchanan in the 2010 GOP primary and came within 2 points of ousting Mr. Altmire that fall.
This year was different. Forced to eliminate one Pennsylvania congressional district after the 2010 census, Republican mapmakers pushed the Altmire and Critz districts into one. That gave Mr. Rothfus, who moved into Sewickley from Edgeworth to be in the new district, the advantage of being a known commodity in the biggest part of it. He was able to save money while the two Democrats faced off and led Mr. Critz in fundraising through the second half of the year.
Television viewers in Western Pennsylvania were fed a continuous diet of ads by the two candidates and outside groups, many of them negative. The commercials slammed Mr. Rothfus as a millionaire who favors more tax breaks for the rich, and Mr. Critz was portrayed as a flip-flopping sycophant of President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Outside groups poured slightly more than $10 million into the race, with more than 60 percent of it going to Mr. Rothfus, according to the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation.
That total was tops in the nation for a congressional race.
One group, Americans for Tax Reform, spent more than $2.5 million, about $1.5 million on ads opposing Mr. Critz, the foundation reported.
In a phone interview early today, Mr. Rothfus said he benefited from his candidacy in 2010, having a network of volunteers and fundraising resources without having to start from scratch. He also raised about twice as much this time, allowing him to expand his advertising.
He said he was surprised by the flow of outside money into the race, some of which forced him to buy time to fend off attacks.
"It's a fact of modern campaigns, I'm afraid," he said of the need to raise big money to compete.
He said his legislative priorities are getting the economy rolling, trying to head off the huge tax increase looming Jan. 1 (before he takes office) from expiration of the Bush tax cuts and Obama payroll tax cut and cutting what he called overregulation of small businesses and the coal industry.
Mr. Critz said the deciding factors were "the onslaught of money spent against me" and the reconfiguration of the district, 70 percent of which was new territory for him.
"We ran a textbook campaign but we couldn't overcome the makeup of the district and the money," he said. "Our effort just came up a little short."