Pennsylvania GOP primary races a bloodsport

Some of the hardest-fought and nastiest primaries in either party came to a close tonight in Pennsylvania.  In contests for the Republican nomination to oppose Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, Jr., and in two heated contests for Congress in each major party, the political bloodletting came to a close.

Coal mine owner and farmer Tom Smith won the five-candidate Republican Senate primary.  Spending more than $6 million of his own wealth, Smith rolled up about 44 per cent of the vote.  He particularly hit hard at the two runners-up, former State Rep. Sam Rohrer (for voting for a controversial pay raise while in the legislature) and venture capitalist Steve Welch (for changing his registration to vote for Barack Obama in the ’08 primary and contributing to arch-liberal Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak in ’06.)

Rohrer ended up with 22 per cent of the vote and Welch with 20 per cent.  Both attacked Smith for his years as an elected Democratic county official and for voting for countywide tax and spending increases in that capacity.(The remaining primary votes went to decorated Vietnam veteran David Christian and attorney Marc Scaringi, a onetime aide to former Pennsylvania’s GOP Sen. Rick Santorum).

The results were a particularly hard blow for Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who took pains to secure the official endorsement of the GOP state committee for his friend and financial backer Welch.  Former Rep. (1994-2008) Phil English (R-Pa.) told Human Events that “I have seen Republican governors twist arms at the state committee to get their way, but never has hard as [Gov.] Corbett did in getting their endorsement for Steve Welch.”

In terms of making a net gain in the Senate’s current 53-to-47 seat Democratic edge, it is not unfair to conclude that a chance at defeating Casey in Pennsylvania are diminished by the brass-knuckled nature of the GOP primary.

In the reconfigured Western Pennsylvania district, two term Democratic Rep. Mark Critz defeated three-term Democratic Rep. Jason Altmire with about 52 per cent of the vote.  Altmire, who first came to Congress in ’06 following a hard-hitting race against then-GOP Rep. Melissa Hart, deployed the same take-no-prisoners tactic against Critz.  Having opposed ObamaCare and supported the Balanced Budget Amendment, Altmire slammed the 50-year-old Critz, for not supporting key entitlements by being absent from voting against the Republican budget plan.  This brought a sharp rebuke to Altmire from House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.).

Critz, onetime top aide to the late Rep. (1974-2010) and “prince of pork” John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) had the backing of most labor unions and of former President Bill Clinton. 

This is the lone House seat in the Keystone State with a chance of flipping party representation in the fall.  Much as GOP blood-letting in the Senate primary works to the advantage of Democrat Casey, the Altmire-Critz bout inarguably helps attorney and conservative Republican Keith Rothfus (who lost a heartbreakingly close race to Altmire in 2010).

The only other House primary to attract national attention was in the 18th District, where veteran GOP Rep. Tim Murphy faced Evan Feinberg, a 28-year-old former staffer for Republican Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.) and Rand Paul (Ky.).  With considerable out-of-state funding from groups such as the pro-home-schooling Madison Project and the Campaign for Public Accountability (which has focused its fire against long-standing House incumbents nationwide), Feinberg did well but not well enough to unseat Murphy. He defeated the newcomer with 63 percent of the vote.