May 18th, 2010
By JOHN FUND, WSJ
President Obama is playing an unusual role in tomorrow’s special election in Pennsylvania to replace the late Rep. Jack Murtha, king of Democratic pork barrelers. Both major party candidates are doing their best to distance themselves from Mr. Obama’s policies.
It’s not surprising that Republican Tim Burns would be running against the Obama White House. But Mark Critz, a former staffer to Mr. Murtha, is spending much of his time as the Democratic candidate beating up on the president’s priorities too.
As a sign of just how much blue-collar districts like Mr. Murtha’s are shifting, Mr. Critz sometimes appears to be trying to outflank Mr. Burns, a local businessman, on the right. He declares that he wants to be “an independent voice” and highlights how he disagrees with Washington Democrats by opposing gun control and abortion rights. But he goes further and says he would have voted against ObamaCare and the cap-and-trade climate change bill passed by the House last year. Both pieces of legislation were supported by Murtha. Nor has Mr. Critz asked President Obama to campaign for him or even sought an endorsement.
Democrats in Washington are willing to cut Mr. Critz all the slack he wants. “Candidates need to reflect their districts, the values and priorities of their voters,” says Rep. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Democrats fear a loss of the Murtha seat — which hasn’t elected a Republican since 1972 — might create a panic among other northeastern Democrats to distance themselves from the Obama agenda.