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May 17, 2014

Dems eye battle with incumbent

JOHNSTOWN — Throughout all of Keith Rothfus’ previous elections – two primaries and two generals – he was a challenger looking to unseat a U.S. congressman.

Now, he is an incumbent with a record to defend against slings from opponents.

The only Republican seeking the nomination in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District will be challenged in the fall by one of two Democrats: retired Marine Corps Col. John Hugya or Erin McClelland.

Rothfus secured GOP nominations in 2010 and 2012. In 2010, when living in the 4th district, he lost a general election bid against U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, by 1.62 percentage points. Rothfus, an Allegheny County resident, then won the seat in the realigned 12th district in 2012, defeating U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown.

The 12th is considered safe for the GOP with a rating of Republican+9 from the Cook Political Report 2014 Partisan Voting Index.

“I don’t have a reason to believe Rothfus is in any trouble,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Politics and Public Affairs.

The 2012 election took place after the Republican-controlled state government redrew the congressional district to make two Democratic congressmen – Critz and Altmire – run against each other in a primary, which the Johnstown resident won.

“They gerrymandered this district because they hoped that they could pit two Democratic congressmen against each other, make a mess, split the district in half and assure that they have a Republican in office for at least another 10 years,” said McClelland.

“I set out in this race to undo that. I dove in, saying I was going to unite the party, and that’s exactly what we did.”

McClelland is the executive director of Arche Wellness, the first orthomolecular addiction treatment program licensed in Pennsylvania. She previously worked at the Institute of Research Education and Training in Addiction. The Allegheny County resident has received endorsements from the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and Cambria County Democratic Party.

While McClelland is a political newcomer, Hugya previously served as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Johnstown.

He has campaigned on his experience, both public and private, which includes decades in the military, law enforcement and working at Bethlehem Steel Corp.

Hugya feels the federal government has lost the ability to compromise and serve the citizens since he left following Murtha’s death in 2010.

“We were able to have cooperation,” said Hugya, who received the highest rating possible from the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund for a candidate without a voting record.

“You don’t have the cooperation now. I just got tired of sitting there and seeing what our congressman is doing. And even Erin. I like her. There’s a problem there; you’ll get eaten up down there by the organization. It ain’t easy. It’s not ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.’ You have to fight for everything, and I’m not adverse to fights. I’ve done that all of my life in the military, the police or whatever else I’ve done.”

Meanwhile, since taking office, Rothfus has introduced six bills that are still in committee: Mutual Bank Choice and Continuity Act, Getting Government to Work Act, Congressional Pay for Performance Act, Disaster Assistance Transparency and Accountability Act, Satisfying Energy Needs and Saving the Environment Act, and Medicare Beneficiary Preservation of Choice Act.

When asked why those issues were his priorities, Rothfus said, “When you see jobs threatened because of policies that are wrongheaded, you need to stop those policies.”

He has been a staunch opponent of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation.

“We continue to stand up to the overreach of the Obama administration,” Rothfus said.

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at

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