Outgoing US Representative Jason Altmire walks out of the polling area after he he voted in the Pennsylvania primary election on Tuesday, April 24, 2012, in McCandless, a suburb north of Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Two conservative Democratic congressman who aligned with Republicans during last year’s budget fights and broke to the right on a host of other issues were defeated in primary contests Tuesday in Pennsylvania.
Congressmen Tim Holden and Jason Altmire, both members of the conservative “Blue Dog Coalition,” were swept out of office by Democratic primary voters who opted for candidates who were more clearly critical of corporate abuses and right-wing policies.
One thing that distinguished Holden and Altmire was their support for the Republican balanced-budget amendment in 2011—a vote that put them at odds with the vast majority of Democrats in Congress. The GOP proposal sought to make deep cuts in Medicare funding and in support for education and healthcare initiatives.
Holden was defeated by northeastern Pennsylvania trial lawyer Matt Cartwright, a proud “Roosevelt Democrat” who placed himself in Paul Wellstone’s “Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.” Cartwright ran with strong support from the League of Conservation Voters and other groups that objected to the incumbent’s following of the corporate line on environmental issues such as fracking. While Holden, the dean of the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation, cast a critical vote against the Democrat’s healthcare reform proposal, his challenger’s campaign declared: “Matt would have supported President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. He remains dissatisfied, however, that it did not go far enough to expand health care coverage for more Americans and hold insurance companies more accountable for what they charge families.”
Altmire, a favorite of Fox hosts who claimed his fellow Democrats suffered setbacks in 2010 because “we were going further to the left than we should have,” lost in a race forced by redistricting with Congressman Mark Critz.
Critz ran with the enthusiastic support of organized labor.
United Steelworkers Union President Leo Gerard campaigned at Critz’s side across the new 12th district in western Pennsylvania, which included far more of Altmire’s old turf than Critz’s.
Gerard argued that the district had been “gerrymandered in a way that would have given Jason Altmire an advantage,” and he bluntly explained that Republicans in the statehouse were protecting a friendly Democrat.
“The reason they did that is, Jason had voted 53 percent of the time with the Republicans,” said the leader of the union that remains a powerful force in western Pennsylvania.
Critz’s critical message at the close of the race was one of support for “making millionaires pay their fair share” and opposition to “the Republican balanced-budget amendment” because, the congressman said, “not only would it mean deep cuts to Medicare benefits, it would cut education and high-tech research that creates new jobs.”
The kicker: “Jason Altmire voted for the Republican balanced budget amendment.”
Cartwright, in his race against Holden, was even more of a Roosevelt Democrat.
“Matt is running for Congress to make sure big corporations and wealthy Americans pay their fair share,” declared the candidate’s ads, in which Cartwright griped, “All of a sudden it’s the corporations picking who is elected. It’s obscene.”