From Dennis Roddy in Johnstown, Pa.
THE LARGEST SWATH of voters in the 12th Congressional District is in Westmoreland County, a rollicking concatenation of old cities, blue polyester suburbs and cow-studded rusticana. Theoretically, it is a majority Democratic, with 58,305 members registered with the party of Carter, and a mere 27,298 aligned with the party of Wendell Willkie.
This, like so many other things in America, is a fanciful illusion. Entering the heart of Westmoreland along Route 22, drivers encounter a billboard photograph of a graveyard, with the legend: Obamacare! Shovel ready!” The dominant newspaper is on record that Vincent Foster was murdered and that Katharine Graham killed her husband. The place has trended not so much Republican as outright crank in its public displays of polity.
It is also a relative newcomer to the 12th Congressional District and, absent a deep and riling anger, its voters might prefer the couch to the ballot box.
The Democrats know as much. They have put a great deal of faith in the turnout in Cambria County, which is 47,967 Democrat and 24,364 Republican with 242 Libertarians and 6,121 independents as the makeweight.
In Cambria, the Republicans have voted Republican in every election save one: Congress. Here are a people who viewed John Murtha as political spandex: he could squeeze into anyone’s ideology because, as Keith Saylor, a childhood friend and lifelong Republican, once told me: “Guess what – pork tastes good.”
Mark Critz has counted on the Murtha legacy, the endorsement of widow Murtha, to his longstanding acquaintanceship with pensioners in need of a Medicaid fix and township commissioners aching for a new sewer line. This sort of retail, fused to Murtha’s legacy, is what he hopes will do something important: drive out the vote in Cambria in disproportionate levels to other parts of the district.
Enter Art Gaunt, age 71, of Summerhill Borough. It is a small town along Route 53 in the county’s worn out bituminous region. He is the local committeeman. He has 800 voters on the rolls – 500 of them Democrats. By day’s end, he was hoping he’d driven out 40 percent of his electors.
“We needed 320 to break 40 percent. We had 300 when I left and we still had two hours of voting,” he said.
“And this is a rural area,” said his son, Donald, hanging on to the long neck of a brown beer bottle.
This is not to say the Republicans of rural Cambria are as warm to Critz as he might have hoped. A tribune of the Tim Burns campaign stood outside the polls and greatly annoyed the elder Gaunt.
“All I heard from him was Pelosi this, Pelosi that,” said Art.
“And I’ve never seen her,” added Donald.
The Burns campaign’s relentless invocation of the Pelosi name, rather like shouting Voldemort at Hogwarts, perplexes men like the Gaunts. They cannot see the connection and say their candidate, Mark Critz, is just as puzzled.
“Mark only ever mentions her in a negative way, too,” said the elder Gaunt.
Photo by Dennis Roddy. At left in ballcap is Donald Gaunt, at right, his father, Art, committeeman in Summerhill.