The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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October 4, 2008

Beating the odds: Three area seats up for grabs

This election season requires that the tough get tougher – especially Republicans running in the mostly Democratic landscape of Cambria County and a Democrat running in Somerset County’s GOP territory.

Add to that the headline-grabbing U.S. presidential race, and it’s easy for local candidates to feel overlooked and discouraged.

“The presidential race is sucking the energy out of the local races,” said Chris Voccio, a Republican running for the state legislature in the 72nd District.

His opponent, Democrat Frank Burns, says that means candidates have to work harder.

“Of course the presidential race is going to draw more attention,” Burns said. “However, I’m out in the district every day, meeting voters on their doorsteps – something they can’t do on the presidential level.”

Of more pragmatic concern to state legislative candidates than national politics is their party registration in hostile territories.

For decades it has been an uphill climb for Democrats in Somerset County and Republicans in Cambria.

“It can be discouraging, because too many people think that the only way they can win is to change their party or their politics,” said retired Cambria County Commissioner Kathy Holtzman, a Republican who won elections in solidly Democratic circles.

“It doesn’t always give people a chance to make a real choice,” Holtzman said.

But it doesn’t stop minority-party candidates in either county from pursuing the offices.

71st District

In the state House 71st District, which covers Johnstown and surrounding municipalities, Democrats hold a commanding majority.

Cambria County’s latest voter-registration statistics show that the district is home to 21,109 Democrats and 11,835 Republicans.

Furthermore, the district has been served by six-term Democratic state Rep. Ed Wojnaroski, who is retiring. And the longtime legislator has endorsed the Democratic candidate for the seat, Bryan Barbin.

Despite those obstacles, though, Republican contender Jim Rigby says he should not be counted out. The Ferndale resident said he has knocked on about 6,000 doors during his campaign.

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