PITTSBURGH — Three Pennsylvania congressional primaries being contested Tuesday after a final round of attack ads may provide a hint of how big an effect organized labor, the tea party movement and deep pockets will have in the state this year.
In the newly created 12th District north and east of Pittsburgh, Democratic U.S. Reps. Jason Altmire and Mark Critz are fighting to be the last one standing after the Republican-controlled Legislature and GOP governor approved new lines combining their previously separate districts.
Altmire was the early favorite, but some leading labor groups have mobilized behind Critz, resulting in a close race, according to a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review/WPXI-TV poll released last week.
The United Steelworkers and 16 other unions endorsed Critz, and so did former President Bill Clinton. But Altmire has attracted plenty of local endorsements, and he has built a base of supporters over the last five years.
Not far away in the 18th District, mostly south of Pittsburgh, Republican Rep. Tim Murphy is facing a spirited challenge from Evan Feinberg in his bid for the GOP nod.
Murphy, 59, has served five terms in Congress, representing a diverse district where Democrats hold a slight majority. Feinberg, a 28-year-old former staffer to conservative members of Congress, says Murphy isn't conservative enough.
The contest got dirty the last week before the primary when Feinberg accused his rival of being a Cleveland Browns fan — a taboo in Steelers country. Murphy's campaign shot back, noting that he was and is "absolutely a Steelers fan."
Feinberg has attracted support from the tea party movement, and some national conservative groups funded ads critical of Murphy.
The 4th District in central Pennsylvania is the only district where no incumbent is running. GOP Rep. Todd Platts is planning to retire. Seven Republicans and two Democrats are competing there.
Platts hasn't endorsed any candidate, and a recent poll from the York Dispatch found that 56 percent of voters there were still undecided.
In northeastern Pennsylvania's 17th Congressional District, Democrat Rep. Tim Holden is being challenged by Matt Cartwright, a successful personal injury attorney.
Cartwright has spent nearly $400,000 of his own money on the race, claiming that Holden is too conservative. National interest groups have entered the fray on Cartwright's behalf.
Whether that's enough to prevent Holden from staying as the longest-serving member of Pennsylvania's congressional delegation remains to be seen.