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Critz, Rothfus camps square off on Twitter | TribLIVE.com
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Critz, Rothfus camps square off on Twitter

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Mark Critz talks with residents outside the polling place at St. Patrick Church in Johnstown after voting on April 24, 2012. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
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Tribune-Review
Republican Keith Rothfus speaks as he kicks off his general election campaign at a fundraiser at the Holiday Inn on McKnight Road on Wednesday evening, April 25, 2012. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review

U.S. Rep. Mark Critz taps out messages on his campaign Twitter account to celebrate Pirates victories and cheer on favorite players such as second baseman Neil Walker.

His campaign staffers use it to do battle with their counterparts working for Republican challenger Keith Rothfus. The two sides traded more than 60 barbs on Twitter in a 2½-hour period on Tuesday afternoon.

That exchange drew comments mostly from Republican and Democratic insiders who troll Twitter feeds for political fodder. Critz, D-Johnstown, has about 1,220 followers and Rothfus has 635, but only 108 Twitter users follow both accounts. Most of the followers in common are accounts registered to journalists, political operatives, elected officials and other political campaigns.

Why bother playing to such a small audience in an election that likely will require more than 100,000 votes to win?

“It’s the same with any medium; you don’t want any false charges made that don’t receive a response,” said Mike Mikus, Critz’s campaign manager and the man behind one side of Tuesday’s online tiff.

“Keith wants to make sure that the differences between the congressman and this campaign are presented to the people,” said Jon Raso, Rothfus’s campaign manager, adding that Twitter has proven a reliable means of gaining attention from the press.

Both campaigns said the candidates are too busy meeting with voters or, in Critz’s case, working in Washington to spend much time on Twitter. Critz indulges in the Twittersphere mainly for Pirates baseball, Mikus said.

Kyle Kondik, a Twitter user and political analyst at the University of Virginia, said Twitter feuds between candidates usually amount to little more than trading talking points, although the same has been said about televised, face-to-face debates.

In July 2011, Republican presidential primary candidates took part in what was touted as the first presidential debate held entirely on Twitter. Twitter dustups have erupted during campaigns at all levels, including between President Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod and Eric Fehrnstrom, adviser to presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

“I can’t imagine that any voter actually would change his or her mind based on these Twitter wars,” Kondik said.

In one pointed exchange, Rothfus accused Critz of being “insincere” about controlling the federal debt because the Democrat supported a $2.4 trillion increase in the national debt ceiling under a deal Congress approved and Obama signed in August 2011.

Critz’s campaign shot back that the congressman also voted last year to cut the nation’s deficit and quipped, “You’re down in the polls after running (for) 3 years … Must (be) frustrating,” a reference to Rothfus’s narrow loss to U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire in 2010.

A poll released this month by Democrats showed Critz is leading Rothfus by 10 percentage points — findings that the Rothfus campaign has dismissed.

A Republican-led redistricting plan that takes effect next year merges much of Altmire’s 4th Congressional District into Critz’s 12th Congressional District. The merger forced the two incumbent Democrats to run against each other in the primary, which Critz won. The district covers Beaver County and portions of Allegheny, Westmoreland, Armstrong and Cambria counties.

The first real-world public debate between Critz and Rotfhus is set for 7 p.m. Oct. 10 in the 350-seat Student Union Building auditorium at Penn State Beaver, 1000 University Drive, Center. The event is free and open to the public.

Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or [email protected].

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