One of U.S. Rep. Mark Critz’s campaign commercials begins with the Democrat from Johnstown saying, “(T)here are some things Keith Rothfus and I agree on. We’re both pro-life, pro-gun and pro-military,” before he explains the differences between himself and his Republican opponent on Medicare.
In southwestern Pennsylvania, it is common for candidates, even those from different political parties, such as Critz and Rothfus in this year’s 12th Congressional District race, to hold nearly identical positions on those issues.
The belief system, shared by many Republicans and Democrats alike, was ingrained into the culture by generations of immigrants who came from Italy, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Ireland and other nations.
They attended church on Sundays, served in the World Wars, owned guns and unquestionably believed in the sanctity of life.
“There is a conservative cultural heritage,” said Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll. “Many of the people came from southern and eastern Europe. They certainly tended to be more conservative. The culture informs a lot of what people do politically.”
Religion played an important role in shaping that world view.
“Look around any community; you drive through Cambria City here and just look at all the steeples,” said Rothfus. “You go to Nanty Glo, look at the steeples. Any small town in western Pennsylvania, it’s chock full of steeples. This is a part of our heritage. Beginning in the 1960s, there was an effort to scrub religion from public life. It has not been a benefit to us.”
Those religious beliefs shaped political philosophies.
“My Catholic faith teaches me that abortion is wrong and that marriage is between a man and a woman, but I also recognize others do not share my views,” said Critz. “I believe that elected officials can be true to their faith and follow their conscience without demonizing people of other faiths or beliefs and that is the approach that I take in my role as an elected official.”
Those opinions have occasionally put Critz at odds with the more liberal members of his own Democratic Party, who support abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
“Mark focuses on finding common ground with people of both parties so that he can effectively represent western Pennsylvania,” said Critz’s campaign manager, Matthew Mazonkey. “He may personally disagree with others in his party on these issues, but he never lets that get in the way of creating jobs for western Pennsylvania.”
Rothfus recently received endorsements from two pro-life groups, the National Right to Life Committee and Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation.
“All voters who are concerned with the right to life and with the protection of the most vulnerable members of the human family should vote to send Keith Rothfus to the U.S. House, where he can work to advance vital pro-life public policies,” stated the National Right to Life Committee in its endorsement. The Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation feels Rothfus has “demonstrated tireless dedication to safeguarding the rights of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable citizens.”
Critz received an endorsement from the National Rifle Association.
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