Election year will feature highly contested local, national races

By Andrew Shull

Save the date: Tuesday, Nov. 6, is Election Day, and for a number of college students, this will…Save the date: Tuesday, Nov. 6, is Election Day, and for a number of college students, this will be the first presidential election in which they can participate. But this year also features an interesting undercard of national elections that shouldn’t come as an afterthought. Take a look at our quick-hit guide to the 2012 elections in play in Pittsburgh.


President Barack Obama will be the first incumbent to be outspent in a presidential election — and you’ll find that fact on the fundraising materials he’s sending out to his supporters. While Pennsylvania has been consistently blue in recent history, look for the president’s challenger, former Republican Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, to try to put PA in play with his sizable war chest. His message will be almost entirely focused on the economy, and his pitch to the American people is that Romney has the experience and know-how to create jobs. His pick for a running mate, Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, reinforces this economy-first focus. Ryan made a name for himself as a fiscal conservative who authored Republican answers to Obama’s budgets.

But Obama has stayed consistently above Romney in the polls, and the president will portray the former governor as an out-of-touch, super-wealthy businessman who’s traded American jobs for quick profits. The wild card in Pennsylvania will be the effects of the Republican-sponsored voter ID law, which opponents say was a voter-suppression effort to keep key Obama-supporting demographics away from the polls.


Incumbent Democrat Sen. Bob Casey faces his first re-election bid after defeating Rick Santorum in 2006, sending the social conservative into obscurity, never to be heard from again. His challenger, Republican Tom Smith, faces a huge obstacle in his bid to unseat Casey — a lack of name recognition. Casey was already well known in the state when he ran against Santorum, as his father was a former Pennsylvania governor. Until receiving the Republican nomination, Smith was only involved in local politics, prior to which he worked in the coal industry. To win, Smith will have to sell Casey as Obama’s surrogate, and hope the president will be unpopular enough for the strategy to work.

House of Representatives: 

Hans Lessmann, an eye doctor from the Forest Hills suburb of Pittsburgh, is challenging Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle, the incumbent, for the 14th congressional district of Pennsylvania, which includes Pittsburgh and a few surrounding boroughs. But Lessmann has a steep hill to climb. Doyle holds one of the safest positions in the country and has yet to face re-election bid that has been close. Doyle won nearly 70 percent of the vote in 2010, and there isn’t much reason to think this year will be any different.

Although Pitt’s campus falls in the 14th district, another election of note — in the 12th Congressional District — involves a large portion of western Pennsylvania. After recent redistricting, two democratic incumbents, Mark Critz and Jason Altmire, squared off, both seeking re-election. Critz, the more conservative of the two, won the nomination by a small margin and now leads Keith Rothfus, whom Altmire defeated in 2010, in the polls. Critz represents a very specific brand of local politician: a social conservative with strong ties to labor, leading him to break with his party more often than other democrats.