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Since we can't get through half a day here at Early Returns without a PA-12 update, here's a rundown from our friend Dan Hirschhorn at PA2010 of last night's wild and woolly PA-12 debate that included not only the special election front-runners Mark Critz and Tim Burns, but also three other candidates who are seeking the primary nod on May 18 to run for the seat in the fall: Republican Bill Russell, and Democrats Ryan Bucchianeri and Ron Mackell Jr.

With candidates allotted little time to offer up substantive policy prescriptions, the loudest fireworks came during the opening remarks by Burns, who immediately went after Critz. The two are scheduled to directly debate next week.

“Tonight you’re going to hear Mark Critz say he’s not a liberal,” Burns said, before noting that Vice President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have been helping the former Murtha aide raise campaign cash.

“Nancy Pelosi isn’t raising money for mark Critz because he’s a nice guy, and I’m sure he is,” Burns said. “She’s raising money because if he wins, she’ll have one more vote for her liberal agenda.”

The early focus on Critz prompted grumbles and even some booing from the audience—”what are you going to do?” one man shouted—before the moderators called for calm from the audience and reminded the candidates that they were supposed to focus on the coming primary, not the special election.

Critz, for his part, continued to embrace Murtha’s personal legacy while drawing clear policy contrasts with his late boss, reiterating his opposition to the recently-enacted health care law and to cap-and-trade energy legislation. Murtha, he said, is “not only my role model, he’s my hero.”

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