Johnstown, Pa.

In the special election to fill the late John Murtha’s House seat, Republican businessman Tim Burns and Rep. Murtha’s director of economic development Mark Critz, the Democratic candidate, debated tonight in a high school auditorium in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The debate, moderated by a local TV station and newspaper, was lively, and the candidates seemed well-matched.

Burns defended himself against Critz’s claims that he favored the privatization of Social Security, the Fair Tax, and had shipped jobs overseas. Critz defended himself against Burns’s claims that he wouldn’t vote to repeal the health care bill and would be a reliable liberal vote for Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama.

After the debate concluded, Critz took a couple of questions from THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

TWS: Mr. Critz, you would have opposed the health care bill, correct?

CRITZ: Correct.

TWS: So why don’t you support repeal of the health care bill?

CRITZ: Because I think in this part of the world, you know what we do? We work with what we have and we look forward. We try to fix what we have instead of going backwards.

TWS: And do you think the health care bill currently—the law—pays for abortions?

CRITZ: No, I don’t.

One of Critz’s staffers then told me that the candidate was going to talk to supporters and when he was done, they’d give me some time to talk to him.

So I stepped aside for a couple minutes and when Critz stopped talking to supporters I asked him, “have you read the health care [law]—the abortion provision, sir?”

Critz didn't respond.

Nor did he respond when I then asked: "Doesn’t the law say that at least one plan ... in every exchange would cover abortions?" Since the candidate continued to be non-responsive, I walked away.

During the debate, Critz had suggested that he and Burns were on the same page on abortion. After Burns had articulated his firmly anti-abortion position, Critz had commented: "I think we’ve reached a watershed. We actually agree on something." As the crowd applauded, Critz asked, "Can I say ditto?"

(I'll have more on the debate, and how the May 18 election is shaping up, in the morning.)

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