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New Kid in Town Is Majority’s Best Asset

Critz Helps Democrats Tout Their Jobs Agenda

Democratic leaders have tapped newly elected Rep. Mark Critz as the poster child for their election-year slogan — “jobs, jobs, jobs” — and are working hard to get the Pennsylvania rookie as much exposure as possible on the issue.

Critz’s House tenure is less than a week old, but he’s already headlining Democratic leadership press events, getting invitations to the White House and landing decent committee assignments. Democrats are pointing to Critz’s decisive special election victory last week as a sign that their 2010 midterm losses won’t be that bad, and they are using his campaign as a template for how other vulnerable Democrats should run for re-election.

Job creation was the main focus of Critz’s bid to replace his longtime boss, the late Rep. John Murtha (D), in the largely rural Western Pennsylvania district, which has been hit hard by the economic decline. “He showed us what works back home on the ground when you talk to people,” Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) said. “We often test ideas, think about what might work. He showed us what works, and the reality is that Americans are very concerned — whether they live in Pennsylvania or California — about just having the chance to work.”

Becerra added that Critz’s win demonstrated that “as much as might be swirling in the air about national politics, folks are concerned about what’s happening right there at home.”

In the short term, Democrats are hoping that highlighting Critz’s jobs-based campaign, coupled with his support for Democrats’ proposal to close a tax loophole that they say encourages companies to send jobs overseas, will help them assuage concerns of fiscally conservative Blue Dogs and win passage of the $200 billion tax extenders bill.

Critz said he encouraged Democratic leaders to include the provision in the package and said the issue resonates with his new constituents.

“This is what it’s all about in Western Pennsylvania,” he said. “They’re worried about their jobs. They’re worried about the economy. So that’s really what I’ve been running on.”

On Tuesday morning, Critz joined Becerra, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and Ways and Means Chairman Sander Levin (D-Mich.) on a press call touting the extenders bill, which could come to the floor as soon as today. Critz bolted from the call early so he could jet to the White House for a Rose Garden ceremony honoring small businesses.

Leaving a Caucus meeting later in the day where his colleagues awarded him seats on the Armed Services and Small Business committees, Critz said the White House invited him because a T-shirt business in his district was taking part in the event. Just a handful of lawmakers attended.

After Critz received his committee assignments, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a statement saying he would be “a great resource” on the Small Business panel as Democrats “continue to create jobs and ensure economic opportunity for all Americans.”

Critz’s race had high stakes for both parties: Majority Leader Steny Hoyer dispatched three staff members to the Pennsylvania Democrat’s district for four days this month to help make a last-minute push for his bid. The Maryland Democrat’s move is particularly notable since Hoyer shunned financial support for Murtha’s campaign in 2008 when the powerful chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee — who had challenged Hoyer for the Majority Leader post two years earlier — was in the toughest re-election battle of his career.

From a leadership standpoint, placing Critz in the limelight on the extenders bill and other jobs measures could serve dual purposes: providing the freshman with a boost in advance of his November rematch against Republican Tim Burns while also helping the Caucus garner additional support for the measure from vulnerable Democrats reassured by Critz’s win.

“He is a great example to all of our Members of how when they are focusing on their community and they are focusing on jobs and the economy, then they can win,” a Democratic leadership aide said, adding that job creation is a “salient message” for Democrats right now.

“He is seen as somebody who can effectively convey that message,” the aide said. “Members would certainly value hearing from him since he has just gone through it.”

But not every Democratic incumbent may be able to follow Critz’s lead. Critz campaigned against the Democrats’ health care overhaul and climate change proposal, which many incumbents supported. And on Tuesday, Critz sought to distance himself from his party leadership on whether to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning openly gay individuals from serving.

Critz may have to go on record on that issue later this week, when Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) could offer compromise language repealing the law as an amendment to the defense authorization bill.

Although the White House and top Defense officials have signed off on the language, Critz said he is still reserving judgment and wants to talk to service members before making up his mind. Critz said during his campaign that he would defer to the Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has OK’d the language.

“I want to listen to the military folks to hear what they would like, so I’m going to defer to them,” Critz said Tuesday.

In the meantime, Critz said he was eager to vote on the extenders bill this week so he could tout his first legislative accomplishment and added that he is “excited about his committee assignments.”

“This is business day three of being a Congressperson, so I’m ready to go to work and do the things I talked about during the campaign,” he said.

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