Democrat Jason Altmire's campaign released a poll memo this morning saying he has a 16-point lead over fellow congressman Mark Critz, as the two prepare to faceoff in the April 24 primary over the new 12th District seat.

The new seat stretches from the suburbs north of Pittsburgh to counties east including Westmoreland, Somerset and Cambria. The memo (below) says Altmire has a comfortable lead in the parts of the district he already represents and leads by 24 points in Westmoreland. Backup data is not included, but it says the McCandless man leads Critz among almost every demographic: men, women, liberal, conservative, union, non-union and so on.

Altmire already represents about 66% of the new district, according to this breakdown.

Critz campaign consultant Mike Mikus said: "These numbers are very encouraging. Jason currently represents two-thirds of the district but is only able to garner half of the current vote.  We are confident voters will support Mark Critz once they learn he is fighting for our shared Democratic values – fighting to create jobs, protect Social Security and Medicare, and stand up for our veterans.”

The poll release comes as the Altmire team is trying to position itself to donors and Democratic constituencies as the frontrunner in the race, and warning about the damage a bitter primary fight could do when trying to hold onto the seat in the fall. The Critz camp is battling back by seeking labor support (and the grassroots and funding help that comes with it), as well as playing up the differences Altmire has had with party leaders over health care reform and other policy matters -- even though Critz has similar conservative credentials.

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