House GOP chairman beats back primary challenge despite dating lobbyist
© Greg Nash

House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) barely fended off a Tea Party-backed primary challenge on Tuesday after a campaign focused on allegations that he has a conflict of interest because he's dating an airline lobbyist.

The powerful 15-year incumbent narrowly avoided becoming the second member of Congress running for reelection to lose a primary this election cycle. Fellow longtime Pennsylvania Rep. Chaka Fattah (D) became the first incumbent to fall earlier Tuesday night.

The second time was almost the charm for Art Halvorson. Shuster defeated Halvorson 52 percent to 48 percent, with about 80 percent of the votes counted, according to The Associated Press.

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Halvorson, a real estate investor and retired Coast Guard captain, ran against Shuster in 2014 but lost by nearly 20 points. 

Halvorson seized upon revelations this cycle that Shuster is romantically involved with a lobbyist for Airlines for America, which advocates before the committee he has chaired for the last three years.

Yet Shuster's ties to the district prevailed over questions about whether his relationship affected his panel's work.

The Shuster name has long been associated with Pennsylvania’s 9th Congressional District. Shuster won a special election in 2001 to succeed his father, Bud Shuster, who also chaired the House Transportation Committee during his 28-year tenure.

A primary loss would have shaken up the House Transportation panel, which is in the midst of negotiations on long-term legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration.

Shuster appeared more vulnerable this cycle after news of his dating life became public. He maintains that he adheres to House ethics rules so that his significant other doesn’t lobby him. 

“That’s more than a conflict of interest. It’s collusion, it’s antitrust and frankly I think it’s criminal,” Halvorson said in an interview with The Hill.

Halvorson nonetheless faced long odds for pulling an upset. Shuster far outpaced Halvorson in fundraising, with the most recent reports filed with the Federal Election Commission showing Shuster had raised $2.6 million to Halvorson’s $64,000. 

American Action Network, an outside group affiliated with members of the GOP establishment, also spent $200,000 in TV and digital advertising for Shuster during the last week of the race.