Former GOP Senate nominee eyes Shuster challenge

Anne Wernikoff

Former Pennsylvania Senate candidate Tom Smith is "seriously thinking about" challenging Rep. Bill Shuster in the GOP primary next year, Smith's supporters told The Hill.

"Tom Smith is seriously thinking about running against Bill Shuster," said Julie Anderson, a Smith supporter who also is an employee at his trucking business. "He's been concerned about the debt for quite a while now, and his big concerns are his kids and grandkids. He feels [the debt] is not being properly taken care of."

Smith, a farmer and wealthy businessman, was a longtime registered Democrat before he switched his party affiliation in 2011 and took on Sen. Bob CaseyBob CaseyThe Hill's 12:30 Report Dems launch new effort on guns after Orlando carnage New bill would ban gun sales to those convicted of hate crimes MORE Jr. (D-Pa.) in 2012. 

Casey, however, easily dispatched Smith 54 percent to 45 percent.

At the conservative Pennsylvania Leadership Conference last weekend, Smith was encouraged by several attendees to challenge Shuster, the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman who is a close ally of Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerEXCLUSIVE: Pro-Hillary group takes 0K in banned donations Ryan: Benghazi report shows administration's failures Clinton can't escape Benghazi responsibility MORE (R-Ohio).

In recent days, Shuster has been under fire for his personal relationship with a top airlines lobbyist whose clients have business before his committee. But the congressman said Airlines for America lobbyist Shelley Rubino stopped lobbying him and his staffers after they began dating in July 2014.

Smith, who self-funded his campaign against Casey, has been discussing challenging Shuster with supporters and potential rivals around the state. On Friday, he spoke with real estate investor Art Halvorson who unsuccessfully took on Shuster last year in the GOP primary.

In that discussion, Halvorson pledged he would not run against Shuster if the businessman ultimately decides to jump in the race.

"I will support him 100 percent," Halvorson said of Smith. 

Smith had previously donated money to Shuster's reelection campaigns, but he stopped this cycle, citing the ballooning national debt.

"When Bill Shuster first went to Washington in January 2001, our national debt was $5.7 trillion. As he starts his eighth term in office, our national debt has grown to over $18.1 trillion," Smith wrote in an op-ed in a local newspaper in February. "Not only did he not accomplish what I had hoped, but he has actually helped facilitate this $12.4 trillion increase in our national debt.

"Rest assured it gives me no pleasure whatsoever to write this," he continued, "just profound disappointment in a politician I had high hopes for."

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