It’s official: Keith Rothfus is a top tier candidate. The National Republican Congressional Committee Thursday promoted the Allegheny County attorney to its Young Guns program in his challenge to Rep. Mark Critz.
The program’s name isn’t literal (Rothfus is 50). But the designation is a big step for the challenger. One of just 12 Young Guns in the country, Rothfus now has an inside track for big national support financially. In the age of super PACs, a list like this helps high-dollar outside groups target the same races without officially coordinating.
And it’s a sign of respect for Rothfus, who took a back seat to many other challengers when he ran against Rep. Jason Altmire in 2010 (he lost by 1.6 percent). That year, the NRCC named him a Young Gun only in October at the last minute – too late to have a decisive impact. This year, Rothfus is in the inaugural class.
Money is a huge component. Second-time candidates typically prove more adept at fundraising, and Rothfus is a case in point. At the end of the first quarter this year, he reported raising over $241,000, bringing his cash on hand to $384K. For comparison, when Rothfus had a competitive primary in 2010, he raised just $115K in the first quarter and ended just $26K in the black.
“Keith Rothfus has met a series of rigorous goals that will put him in position to win on Election Day,” said NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX). “The momentum behind his campaign is proof-positive that Pennsylvania families are fed up with President Obama and Mark Critz’s policies that continue to spend too much, tax too much and borrow too much at the expense of hard-working families.”
Sessions lost his first congressional bid during the Republican wave year of 1994, but came back two years later to win the seat. Sound familiar?
It’s likely to be the top congressional race in Pennsylvania this cycle, and is Republicans’ only realistic pickup opportunity. Cook Political Report recently re-classified the district from ‘lean Democratic’ to ‘toss up.’ It also ranked number 1 in PoliticsPA’s ranking of congressional seats most likely to switch party control.
Rothfus is presently the only PA Republican anywhere on the NRCC’s rankings.
The committee called him a ‘contender’ – the second-highest rank – in February. They also spent over $15,000 in TV and online ads this month in the wake of Critz’s primary win over fellow Rep. Jason Altmire.
Rothfus celebrated the promotion.
“I appreciate the National Republican Congressional Committee’s recognition of the strength of my campaign by promoting me to their top tier of candidates in the country,” he said. “Voters across Southwest Pennsylvania do not like the liberal, big-government, big debt agenda of President Obama that Congressman Mark Critz has aided and abetted.”
Critz himself has the aid of a national committee. The NRCC’s Democratic counterpart has named him to its Frontline program, meant to boost potentially vulnerable incumbents.
He also has another advantage, at least for the next month: he lives in the district. Rothfus, on the other hand, was drawn just outside the lines – something Critz brought up recently in an interview with KDKA.
“Keith lives in the 18th,” Critz said. “If he is so intent on being in Congress, why is he moving to a different district to run?”
The lines were drawn to give state Rep. Mike Turzai or another favored Republican the inside track at the nomination over Rothfus.
His campaign brushed off the NRCC news.
“Regardless of what moniker the beltway Republicans give him, it won’t change the fact that Keith Rothfus is an out of touch former Bush Administration official who supports trade deals that ship jobs overseas and wants to turn Medicare in to a voucher system in order to pay for even more tax cuts for millionaires like himself,” said Critz spokesman Mike Mikus. “This election will be about these important issues and Keith Rothfus is on the wrong side of every one.”