Murtha special election candidates to be chosen in early March

Democrats and Republicans will both meet in Westmoreland County over the coming weeks to select their candidates for the special PA-12 Congressional election. But the two parties will use substantially different methods to pick their nominees.

Republicans will convene a special conference on March 11th in Latrobe. Party committees from counties within the district –that would be all of Greene, and portions of Allegheny, Armstrong, Cambria, Fayette, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland – will send conferees. The selection process differs from county to county, according to GOP spokesman Mike Barley, but all attendees must be Republicans who live within the 12th.

Each prospective candidate will have a chance to make a presentation, and afterwards the conferees will vote. The candidate who wins a majority tally will be the special election nominee.  Barley says the party is doing the best it can to make the process inclusive. He says he’s not worried about a grassroots conservative backlash against the party’s pick, ala last year’s NY-23 special election. “That was a process where a handful of people picked the candidate on a conference call,” he said.  “Our process will be open. There will be an opportunity for the press to be involved in the entire meeting. We will, again, listen. Any candidate that’s interested is more than welcome to come.”

Barley said it’s too early to tell whether the GOP will try to ensure whether the special election candidate will be someone who also runs in the primary for November’s general election, which will be held simultaneously.

Democrats will gather a few days beforehand, on March 6th in Delmont. County committees from within the district will send 100 delegates to a special “recommendation convention” that will vote on a nominee. The catch? The state party’s executive committee will have a final say on who the candidate is, and could choose to completely ignore the convention’s results. Chairman TJ Rooney explains: “It is, at the end of the day, the responsibility of the executive committee. And members of the executive committee will receive and weigh information from a myriad of sources, including polling that’s been done in the district.”

Still, Rooney says the convention will play an important role in the committee’s final decision. Like their Republican counterparts, Democrats are doing the best they can to be inclusive about the selection process. “One  surefire way to blow it and make sure you don’t get it right is to not have local input and not engage the people in the 12th District,” he explains.

Rooney says Democrats will do the best they can to coalesce around one special and primary candidate. He has no idea who will emerge as the party favorite, pointing out former Lieutenant Governor Mark Singel just dropped out, and John Mutha’s widow Joyce said she wouldn’t run. “Two of the leading candidates, just in the last 24 hours, have withdrawn. It’s a little bit early.”

About pubradiopolitics
Scott covers state government and politics for Pennsylvania's public radio stations, including WITF in Harrisburg, WHYY in Philadelphia and WDUQ in Pittsburgh.

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