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It's Labor Versus Tea Party in Pennsylvania House Race
Monday, September 17, 2012

Race draws $1.4 million in outside spending

It’s the tea party versus unions in the race to determine who will control Pennsylvania’s redrawn 12th Congressional District. Democratic Rep. Mark Critz, backed by union muscle, faces a challenge from attorney Keith Rothfus, a tea party favorite, in a race that has already seen $1.4 million in outside spending.

Organized labor has rallied behind Rep. Mark Crtiz, D-Pa., by producing ads like this one from SEIU COPE, the PAC of the Service Employees International Union, which opposes Crtiz's opponent Keith Rothfus. YouTube/Screenshot

Organized labor has rallied behind Rep. Mark Crtiz, D-Pa., by producing ads like this one from SEIU COPE, the PAC of the Service Employees International Union, which opposes Crtiz's opponent Keith Rothfus. YouTube/Screenshot

House races are especially vulnerable to outside spending because smaller districts and smaller campaign accounts mean less money is needed to make an impact.

The Service Employees International Union’s super PAC, SEIU PEA Federal, and its traditional PAC, SEIU COPE, dropped $277,000 on Thursday on ads and other campaign expenditures designed to help Critz stay in Congress, Federal Election Commission reports show. Critz has also gotten help from the AFL-CIO and its political committees and affiliates as well as the United Steelworkers and its PAC, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

House Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have also supported his re-election with a combined $385,000 in spending.

Most of the outside spending in favor of Rothfus has come via the National Republican Congressional Committee, which has spent more than a half-million dollars in his favor. Rothfus also has financial support from the tea party-aligned super PAC FreedomWorks for America, headed up by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, and Club for Growth, a free-market, conservative nonprofit.

The seat is considered a tossup.

Originally Republican-leaning, redistricting resulted in the 12th District incorporating the left-leaning Johnstown, Critz’s hometown, into the fold, The New York Times reported. Critz won the Democratic primary in a surprise outcome against another incumbent, Rep. Jason Altmire, who had represented two-thirds of the district beforehand, according to The Washington Post.

Labor began rallying around Critz during the primary, largely because of Critz's support for the Affordable Care Act (though he was elected after it passed), whereas Altmire at first voted against it, Politico reported. By April’s primary election, Critz had the endorsement of at least 20 labor groups.

Rothfus first ran for Congress in 2010 but was largely overlooked by the national Republican establishment. This year, with outside spending pouring in from the NRCC and a speaking slot at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, the Republican Party is fighting hard for him.

An endorsement from the Tea Party Express, FreedomWorks for America and Club for Growth has earned Rothfus a badge of acceptance from tea partiers across the state.

Outside ads’ criticisms of Rothfus have focused on alleged outsourcing to China (“Shanghai” from the DCCC), Medicare (“Not on Our Side” from SEIU COPE) and his legal representation of the bailed-out Bank of New York Mellon (“Problem” from House Majority PAC).

The Rothfus campaign released an ad Wednesday responding to the China allegations that says, “The attacks are wrong. The closest Keith Rothfus has been with China was when he has ordered takeout for his family.”

Rothfus also released a statement about Bank of New York Mellon arguing that it employs 7,500 people in the Pittsburgh area, and as such, it is unfair to call him a “millionaire Wall Street lawyer.” And as to Medicare, Rothfus opposes the Affordable Care Act and supports Rep. Paul Ryan’s “premium support” plan.

Critz for his part was hit by NRCC ads for his support of the Affordable Care Act (“20 Times”).

Rothfus’s campaign itself has raised $892,000 through the end of June, compared with Critz’s $1.8 million, and it has spent $273,000 compared with Critz’s $1.3 million, according to the most recent FEC reports.

In other outside spending news:

  • SEIU PEA Federal, the super PAC, reported spending $865,000 on ads designed to help the Democratic candidates in several U.S. House and Senate races. SEIU COPE, the traditional PAC, spent an additional $869,000 on House and Senate races.
  • House Majority PAC released “Strange,” saying Rep. Chip Cravaack, a Republican from Minnesota’s 8th District, came back from Washington with “strange ideas” like “ending the current Medicare system.” Former Rep. Rick Nolan, a Democrat, is challenging him for his seat. House Majority PAC also released "Choice," which supports Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall and opposes Republican state Rep. Rick Snuffer for U.S. House in West Virginia's 3rd District.
  • "Buildings" from Majority PAC opposes former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, who is running for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin against Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin.
  • The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union released “A Lot to Say,” an ad criticizing Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., who is running for U.S. Senate against Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.
  • The conservative Republican Jewish Coalition placed billboards in Florida that read, “OBAMA…OY VEY!! Had enough?”
  • Insider” from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hits Republican U.S. House candidate Rodney Davis for his support of Ryan’s Medicare plan. Davis, a congressional aide, faces physician Rodney Gill in Illinois’ 13th District.
  • New super PACs: Transparency Now in Honolulu, Hawaii.
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