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Wide-Open Congressional Races Kick Off Across Western Pa.

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Tuesday, Feb. 27, is the first day for candidates to circulate and file nominating petitions to run for Congress in the state's 18 new congressional districts.

The new districts create opportunities for candidates to take on incumbents.

Former U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, once a McCandless Democrat, knows what it's like to have his congressional district changed radically.

"It was very difficult. It was like starting over again," Altmire told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Tuesday.

A Republican gerrymander in 2011 forced Altimre to run against Democratic incumbent Mark Critz, of Johnstown, with the winner taking on Republican Keith Rothfus in a district designed to elect Republicans.

Of course, Rothfus won.

Now Rothfus is running in the new 17th district where a Democrat has a shot of beating him.

"I would say to any candidate, this is your time because the playing field is level," noted Altmire.

Starting Feb. 27, candidates have three weeks to circulate and file their nominating petitions and 11 weeks until the May 15 primary.

With new districts for everyone, thanks to the state Supreme Court, voters will see more competitive races across the state.

That means more challengers, both primary and general, lining up against incumbents U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson in the new 15th, U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly in the new 16th, and U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle in the new 18th district.

"If you're an incumbent congressman, you spend all of your time thinking about and working with people in your current district," Altmire said. "To have 11 weeks to get to know an entirely new area, you're basically a challenger again."

That gives challengers a shot -- even more so in two other districts like the new 13th where incumbent U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster is retiring and the new 14th where no incumbent lives at the moment.

So what's the key to winning in a jump-ball election like this?

Name recognition, says Altmire, which candidates can buy with money.

"In a shortened time period like this, it's going to be critical -- the ability to raise money -- and to get your message out on the airwaves," he said. "That's the only way you're going to be able to win."

Assuming these new districts survive Federal court challenge, it's really wide open for you or anyone to run for Congress.

KDKA has already heard of more than a dozen-and-a-half challengers lining up to take on the incumbents in our area or run in open seats.

Candidates have until March 20 to file nominating petitions.

Of course, the odds favor those with some name recognition or the money to buy it.

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