The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


December 4, 2013

The Art of (political) war

Upstart gives Shuster competition for seat

JOHNSTOWN — Bill Shuster might be the chairman of the U.S. House Transportation Committee, but his road to re-election in the 9th District could be a bumpy one.

Shuster, who has served the district that now includes all or parts of Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Indiana and Somerset counties for more than a decade, will face not one but two challengers in the Republican primary next year.

Art Halvorson, a Republican from Manns Choice, Bedford County, sat down with The Tribune-Democrat recently and spoke about the perceived weaknesses he sees in Shuster’s bid for re-election.

The former Coast Guard helicopter pilot believes that Shuster, who succeeded his father, Bud, in the House, is very vulnerable.

And Halvorson, who says he is idealogically similar to Keith Rothfus, was encouraged by the Sewickley Republican’s ability to beat Johnstown Democrat Mark Critz a year ago. Rothfus’ victory broke a local stranglehold on the House seat that linked back to the late John Murtha. Halvorson says the same type of upset is possible in his race with Shuster.

“I think what we’re going to see here with Shuster is the unexpected happening,” Halvorson said. “Shuster’s not that tough, but he has the myth, the 40-year dynasty myth that he can’t be taken. I think he can be taken down. He’s a weak congressman.”

That’s tough talk from a political newcomer who, according to an October poll, trailed Shuster by 52 points.

Of course, portraying Shuster as weak is a politically savvy move for a relative unknown trying to make a name for himself. Halvorson has done a good job of that recently, with publications such as the New York Times and Politico and even National Public Radio doing stories on his battle with Shuster.

Halvorson shies away from the “tea party” term, but he shares much of the idealogy and lashes out at Shuster, who he says is too liberal for the people of the 9th District. He rails against Shuster’s vote to fund the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and end the government shutdown. Halvorson also targeted government involvement in a wide range of areas, from health care and education to poverty to environmental protection.

Not surprisingly, Halvorson also advocates against career politicians. He said that, while he knows that he wouldn’t be able to accomplish all of his goals in six years in office, he would vow not to serve more than three terms, if elected.

That certainly is optimistic. Even with 51⁄2 months to go before the primary, we’re not

sure that Halvorson can make up such a huge deficit. He understands that. But he said that if he can’t win, he might just “soften up” Shuster for someone else in the next election.

The way we see it, Halvorson and Franklin County’s Travis Schooley, who also has entered the race, give Republicans in the 9th District a clear choice in what type of representation they want. That – assuming the candidates are qualified for the position – is really all we can ask for.

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