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Ex-Murtha Aide Gets Democratic Nod for Special Election

Updated: March 6, 12:58 p.m.

Local Democratic officials Saturday picked Mark Critz, a former top aide to the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), as their preference to be their nominee for the special election to replace Murtha on May 18.

Critz defeated former state Treasurer Barbara Hafer (D) and other Democrats in Saturday’s vote, and he is expected to be confirmed by statewide party officials later this month.

“The vote taken today is a non-binding recommendation,” said T.J. Rooney, the state Democratic chairman. “That said, the members of the Executive Committee will certainly take these results under consideration this Monday when they decide our nominee. It should be noted that the final decision rests solely with the 50 members of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party Executive Committee … We look forward to a spirited campaign confident that the good people of the 12th District will cast their votes for the Democratic nominee.”

Critz won the contest with 46 votes, with Hafer coming in second with 22 votes. Cambria County Comptroller Ed Cernic Jr. had 14 votes and Navy veteran Ryan Bucchianeri had one vote among about 80 local Democrats voting Satuday morning in Delmont, Pa. Both Critz and Hafer have indicated they plan to file the paperwork to run for the nomination for a full term in the Democratic primary, which is also on May 18.

Critz will face off against the GOP nominee, either 2008 GOP nominee Bill Russell or businessman Tim Burns. Local Republican leaders are scheduled to select their candidate for the special election Thursday evening in Latrobe, Pa.

Democrats are expected to have the upper hand in this special election because there are several competitive statewide primaries in their party on the same day, which is expected to drive voter turnout.

But it’s possible that Critz could win the special election over the Republican on May 18, and then lose the nomination to run for a full term to another candidate on the same day. As a former statewide lawmaker, Hafer likely has much higher name identification with Democratic primary voters. Republicans could also find themselves in a similar scenario because while party leaders might prefer Burns, Russell has strong name recognition from his bid for Congress last cycle.

For both parties — but especially for Republicans — finances will be key to winning this race. The Pittsburgh media market is the second most expensive in the state, and it does not even reach the entire sprawling 12th district in southwestern Pennsylvania. The National Republican Congressional Committee only has $4.1 million in the bank, while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has more than $18.3 million — however, neither committee wants to part with those precious funds now in a competitive midterm election year.

If Burns decides to invest a significant amount of his own personal funds into the race, Republicans have a much better shot on May 18. Critz announced this week that he has raised more than $100,000 for his bid so far.

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