Gizzi's Races of the Week

Pennsylvania’s 12th U.S. House District
Burns vs. Critz

How can someone run for Congress—or any office, for that matter—and duck positions on controversial issues?

“That’s what a number of us are wondering here in Western Pennsylvania,” says businessman Tim Burns, Republican nominee in the special election for the seat of the late Rep. John Murtha (D.-Pa.). With a month to go before voters in the Keystone State’s 12th District fill the seat that Murtha held from 1974 until his death last year, conservative GOPer Burns is trying to smoke out the positions of the Democratic candidate, Murtha’s former top aide, Mark Critz.

“We issued three press releases calling on my opponent to simply state where he stood on the healthcare bill that passed the House March 21,” said Burns, who has long said he would have voted against the $750 billion-plus measure. “He finally said he ‘probably’ would have voted against it because of the cost. All I can say is, when you are serving the people in Washington, you make up your mind before the vote, not after.”

Underscoring his commitment to “repeal and reform” the controversial measure, Burns notes that “the e-mails and phone calls and talks I’ve had with folks here make it clear: They are angry and frustrated over that vote. They feel Congress wasn’t listening to the people.”
The 42-year-old Burns speaks from the heart on this subject. Freely admitting that he had never been involved in politics before last year, the businessman-candidate became active through the Tea Party movement that is growing rapidly in Western Pennsylvania.

“After I made my first address to a Tea Party last year,” recalled Burns, “I thought of my two children and how, unless we did something different in Washington, they were going to be left with an enormous debt to pay off. That’s when I decided to run for Congress.”

Along with his “non-position” on the healthcare bill, Burns’ opponent is not being clear about his stand on the cap-and-trade climate-control bill. Burns is very clear: “We have two of the world’s largest coal mines in Western Pennsylvania and vast reserves of natural gas. Cap and trade would be devastating to us and that’s why I will fight it.”  He also pointed out that Critz’s old boss and mentor Murtha voted for the Obama-backed climate measure.

Of the 48-year-old Critz, Burns says the biggest difference is that “he’s a bureaucrat and I’m a businessman—and one who has created more than 300 jobs in the private sector.”

The race for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 12th District will be watched nationwide as the first voter test of the healthcare bill. The last two times the district was open came about because congressmen died and there were special elections. In both cases, the district’s voters changed parties—in 1949, when Democratic Rep. Robert Corbett died and Republican John Saylor won the special, and then in 1974, when Saylor died and Murtha was elected. On May 18, if conservatives rally to Tim Burns, it will happen again—and a resounding message will be sent to Barack Obama’s Washington.

(Tim Burns for Congress, P.O. Box 4483, Eighty-Four, Pennsylvania, 15330; 814-619-3414;

Florida’s 22nd U.S. House District
West vs. Klein

“That fellow is the most phenomenal gambler I have ever encountered. Each time he loses, he simply doubles his stake and rolls his dice once again.”

In Robert Harris’s new novel Conspirata, those words are supposedly what Roman Sen. Marcus Cicero said about his colleague Julius Caesar. The young Caesar had just come from behind to defeat two more senior opponents for leader of Rome.

The same words could easily be applied to Allen West—retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and Desert Storm veteran, whose maiden political mission was carrying the Republican banner against freshman Democratic Rep. Ron Klein in Florida’s 22nd District two years ago.

To many, West was on a suicide mission. In ’06, Klein had ridden a Democratic tide to unseat 26-year Republican incumbent Clay Shaw and ’08 seemed to be looming as another big Democratic year.

A self-styled “conservative who happens to be black,” West ran a spirited campaign, spoke to whatever civic groups would have him and tirelessly contrasted his views with those of the liberal Klein (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 1.33%). When it was over, first-time contender West had rolled up a never-expected 45% of the vote against Klein.

Throughout the Palm Beach-Fort Lauderdale area district, there was no question about a rematch in 2010.

“And while we had about $37,000 in the bank in March of ’08, we have raised about seven-figures so far for 2010,” said West, who has since received national recognition as a conservative spokesman through his address to the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this year and appearing on Bill Bennett’s radio program on MSNBC.

With characteristic combativeness, the GOP hopeful has gone to his district’s numerous senior citizen groups and slammed Klein’s vote for the Democratic-crafted healthcare legislation—in West’s words, “a big part of Obama’s Socialist legislative agenda.” Noting that the measure’s $500 billion in cuts to Medicare will hit hard at his constituents and "the bill doesn’t have a single word about tort reform,” West has vowed to “repeal and reform” the recently-passed measure once he gets to Congress.

As Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi turn their attention to “immigration reform,” West says, “We’re suffering here because of illegal immigration. Obama and Pelosi just want to make 12-15 million new citizens who will register Democratic and shift the electoral base. I say get tough—start denying benefits to people who aren’t citizens and then start talking about a guest-worker program.”

Retired Lt. Col. West is also anxious to take on the Obama Administration on what he calls “turning our back on Israel” and the U.S. role in Afghanistan. The President’s recent trip to see U.S. troops in Kabul was, according to West, “a five or six hour photo opportunity. You can’t assess the situation when you leave before sunrise.”

While West rarely mentions anything about being black, it is often pointed out in the media that there are very few black Republicans in elective office. That, of course, would change with the election of a “Rep. Allen West (R.-Fla.)” because, as the candidate himself says, “The media could not marginalize me the way they have other conservative voices. When I’m in Congress, you’ll know I’m there.”

(Allen West for Congress, P.O. Box 1028, Deerfield Beach, Fla., 33441;

Illinois’ 8th U.S. House District
Walsh vs. Bean

Democrats and Republicans alike in Illinois’s 8th District (suburban Chicago) are still wondering how on earth Joe Walsh—a one time inner-city Chicago teacher—ever defeated six opponents on a budget of $130,000 (“all small donations,” notes the candidate) to win the GOP primary to oppose three-term Democratic Rep. Melissa Bean?

“It was the Tea Party movement here—pure and simple,” says Walsh, who has never held elective office. “We have about 10-12 different Tea Party groups in and around Chicago and I spoke to each of them. They liked my message of cutting taxes, opposing government stimulus and bailout programs and opportunity.”

The 47-year-old Walsh recalled how “about 100 to 200 Tea Partiers provided ‘boots on the ground’ for me in the primary—going door-to-door, licking envelopes, making calls and driving supporters to the polls.”

Not only did it work but, as Walsh predicts, “after my opponent’s vote for the healthcare bill, the phones at our headquarters haven’t stopped ringing. We’ll have four to five times that number of volunteers by the fall!”

“Out of touch” is how University of Chicago graduate Walsh labels Bean (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 30%), repeatedly noting that “she never held a single town hall meeting with her constituents before she voted for Obama’s healthcare plan. How can you vote on an issue that important if you don’t talk to your folks at home?” (Since the vote, Bean has held meetings, but they have been invitation-only.)

To underscore his point, Walsh is holding town hall meetings of his won focusing on alternatives to the recently enacted Obamacare. And, they’re open to all, his supporters emphasize.

Although he has never held office, Joe Walsh has been around public policy for much of his life, having worked for the Heartland Institute and the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation. At a time when Tea Party candidates are portrayed in the media as prophets of gloom and “againsters,” Walsh preaches the gospel of hope and opportunity enunciated by his heroes Friedman and Jack Kemp.

“We can give people more opportunities by ending the estate tax, the Alternative Minimum Tax, and the capital gains tax—and then cutting the corporate tax in half,” he says without hesitation. “We can then give people more money, more security and more chances to make their own decisions.”

As an example, Walsh cites his own work as executive director of the Daniel Murphy Scholarship Fund, in which role he oversaw the awarding of 150 privately funded vouchers per year to permit 8th graders in the inner city to attend schools of their own choice.

In Bean’s last two trips to the polls, pundits usually concluded that she won because she was considered a moderate and candidates such as Joe Walsh considered “too conservative.”

“Not so in 2010,” says Walsh, “not after her votes on healthcare and stimulus packages. That’s why people here are scared. And that’s why a message of conservatism and hope resonates. This is the perfect storm.”
(Joe Walsh for Congress, 830 West Route 22 P.O. Box 56, Lake Zurich, Ill. 60047; 217-638-3543,