Even more than the defeat of three-term Rep. Jason Altmire by the more liberal Rep. Mark Critz in the re-carved Western Pennsylvania district, the upset of 20-year Rep. Tim Holden by political newcomer Matt Cartwright sent political shock waves from the Keystone State throughout the nation.
In becoming the first incumbent House Democrat to be defeated for renomination by a non-incumbent, Holden–like Altmire–was clearly being punished for showing a bit of independence from the Obama-Pelosi-Reid line. The self-styled “blue dog” Democrat had supported the Republican energy policy, which calls for more oil drilling and coal exploration as well as experimenting with alternative sources of energy. In addition, Holden had opposed ObamaCare and, like Altmire in his race with Critz, was fiercely attacked by the far-left within his party.
Following redistricting in 2001, Holden had to run in a district that was marginal and competitive and the following year eked out a win over Republican and fellow Rep. George Gekas. Throughout the next decade, Holden generally voted the “blue dog,” centrist Democrat line and this helped in races against such strong GOP foes as Scott Paterno, son of the late Penn State football coach, and Toni Gilhooley, former state policewoman and conservative stalwart.
But when the Republican-controlled legislature gave Holden a district that was safely Democratic following last year’s redistricting, he suddenly found his “blue dog” record the subject for strong assault. The League of Conservation Voters poured more than $250,000 in the race to defeat the Democrat who backed the GOP on energy, while the Campaign for Primary Accountability spent about $200,000. As it did in helping to help freshman Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger defeat 20-year GOP Rep. Don Manzullo in the Illinois primary earlier this year, CRP slammed Holden as an incumbent who had been in office too long.
Cartwright, a lawyer well known for his appearances as a legal expert on a local news show, used $390,000 of his own wealth and raised another $700,000.
If there is any lesson “blue dog” Democrats can learn from the downfall of Tim Holden, it’s a simple one: the dogcatcher is after them and the dogcatcher is the well-oiled left of the Democratic Party, which doesn’t forgive.