The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Chip Minemyer

January 1, 2012

Chip Minemyer | 2012: The Year of the Voter

— According to the traditions of Chinese astrology, 2012 is the year of the dragon – a special time when the most dominant of mythological signs controls our fortunes.

That’s an interesting story, great for web surfers and restaurant placemats.

But for those students of politics rather than mythology and astronomy, 2012 will be the year of the voter – a transformational year when the will of the people is thrust upon those in power at the state and national levels.

Well, it should be anyway.

Motivated and mobilized voters could certainly make this their year.

And with approval ratings embarrassingly low for elected officials from both parties and at all levels, this should be a year for motivated and mobilized voters.

The Iowa caucuses on Tuesday will officially launch the Republican presidential election process as the GOP picks its challenger to Barack Obama.

Republican primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida before the new year is a month old will tell us which of the contenders – Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul or someone else – is actually gaining favor with GOP voters as a viable threat to Obama, once seen as a lock to get bounced after one term in the White House but now suddenly at least a 50-50 bet to keep the job.

The GOP campaign will be all but settled by the time Pennsylvanians go to the polls for their primary elections on April 24 (remember Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008?).

But there will be plenty of action here as two sitting congressmen square off in the reconfigured 12th district and a list of generally underwhelming Republicans tangle to see who gets the chance to face incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. in the fall.

Like Obama, Casey has been labeled a vulnerable target by the GOP, which still hasn’t produced a challenger strong enough to make voters say “wow.”

None of the announced GOP Senate contenders has begun to create separation from the field. That field includes the likes of ex-Berks County state Rep. Sam Rohrer, former Sen. Rick Santorum staffer Marc Scaringi and Johnstown native Tim Burns, twice a loser in the 12th district in 2010.

Keep an eye on this race early in 2012, even as things get cooking in the presidential chase.

Speaking of the 12th, things were certainly intense two years ago – when the death of John Murtha led to a special election to complete the longtime congressman’s term through that year and a parallel election for the current two-year term.

Again this year, things should be wild in the 12th right through November as candidates jostle for the right to represent the new gerrymandered district that will shift north of Pittsburgh when 2013 arrives.

The Democratic primary will pit two incumbents – Mark Critz of Johnstown and Jason Altmire of Aliquippa – head to head, thanks to the loss of one congressional seat in Pennsylvania.

At the same time, Republican candidates – yet to officially come forward – will be lining up for the right to meet the Critz-Altmire winner in the fall.

In addition, at the state level, redistricting left Somerset County split among various legislators in both the House and Senate, while the district now represented by longtime state Sen. John Wozniak shifted east to include Bedford County.

All of the state House seats will be on the ballot in 2012, and Wozniak will be campaigning to keep his seat in the new 35th district.

This list of races will make for great theater in 2012, and political junkies will have much to discuss and many predictions to make.

When the dust settles in November, will we see fresh faces headed off to Harrisburg and Washington? Or will incumbents hold fast to their seats in our state and federal governments?

Well, that’s up to those who exercise the right to go to the polls.

For in the year of the voters, it is they who can have the final say on the future courses of our state and country.

Even mythical dragons don’t have that much power.

Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5091.

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