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How Republicans lost PA-12, and why Democrats think the Mark Critz prototype could save them in 2010

May 19, 2010 |  8:19 am

Republican Tim Burns greets supporters after losing to Democrat Mark Critz in a special congressional election May 18, 2010 by AP Photo

It is the great mystery of our times -- and of this election cycle -- that Republican Tim Burns lost to Democrat Mark Critz in Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District.

For one thing, the political climate -- anti-incumbent, anti-Washington, anti-insider -- was in Burns' favor.

For another, the district -- although held for decades by the late John Murtha -- is not safe territory for Democrats. Arizona Republican John McCain carried PA-12 in the 2008 presidential election, and President Obama's approval rating at the moment is in the 30s.

But Democrats believe that in a toxic year for incumbents and despite unfriendly districts, they can win on tactics. The Critz victory -- and it was not even close, with a 53%-45% tally -- suggests they may have a point.

Burns, taking his lead from Republicans in Washington, ran against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Obama's healthcare reform effort and wasteful government spending. "I don't claim to know how Washington works because I don't believe that it does," he said.

Critz talked jobs, jobs, jobs, charging that Burns, as a businessman, outsourced jobs overseas. Burns tried to portray the pro-life, pro-gun Critz as a Washington insider, "one of them." That was technically true -- Critz worked for Murtha -- but the accusation didn't stick because Critz ran as "one of you." Murtha's ability to bring home pork to the 12th district was much appreciated by blue-collar voters strapped for jobs.

In the end, said Jennifer Crider of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  "Critz won PA-12 with a message of creating jobs and stopping the outsourcing of American jobs. ... "Tim Burns lost by nationalizing his message."

Maybe Tip O"Neill was right. Maybe all politics really is local. If that's true, Democrats have a chance to keep the House even in an atmosphere of anti-Washington fervor. Especially if Republicans -- at war within over Republican National Committee leadership and "tea party" passion -- keep thinking this election is about their power instead of the voters' concerns.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Tim Burns talks to supporters after losing to Democrat Mark Critz in the special election to fill Pennsylvania Democrat Jack Murtha's House seat Tuesday. Credit: Associated Press

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