Local GOP committee members line up behind Shuster challenger

Local GOP committee members line up behind Shuster challenger
© Greg Nash

A number of local GOP committee members in Pennsylvania have resigned from their posts so they can throw their support behind a tea party-backed challenger to Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) this fall, underscoring the party divide brewing in the 9th District.

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Four members of the Franklin County Republican Committee (FCRC) announced Tuesday that they'd officially left their spots in order to openly endorse Republican Art Halvorson, who is running as a Democrat to unseat the House Transportation and Infrastructure chairman in the general election.

Darren Brown, vice chairman and mayor of Chambersburg, Pa.; Greg Scandlen, Halvorson’s communications director; and two other members — all of whom supported Halvorson in the primary — said they had to resign because committee bylaws require members to back all Republican candidates on the ballot in the general election.

But because Halvorson is now running on the Democratic ticket, supporting him would represent a conflict of interest.

Some Republican committee members in Indiana County and Blair County had also resigned so they could endorse Halvorson.

Halvorson, a real estate investor and retired Coast Guard captain, is still a registered Republican and vowed to serve as a GOP member of Congress if elected.

“We are members of the FCRC and respect their mission as well as their bylaws but we cannot in good conscience endorse Bill Shuster over Art Halvorson in this congressional race,” they said in a public statement. “It’s time for a change in the right direction and Art Halvorson is the right person for the job.”

“It is important to note that Art Halvorson is still a Republican just as we who are resigning from our committee positions are still Republicans,” they added.

Shuster’s campaign has maintained that Halvorson’s decision to run as a Democrat is a selfish move that undermines the will of the voters.

"I would expect people on Art Halvorson’s staff to have the common courtesy to endorse him," Shuster campaign spokesman Casey Contres said in a statement. "If the others have trouble supporting the choice of the Republican primary voters of the 9th District who is proud to be on Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump's national emergency declaration MORE’s team and instead want to support someone running on Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRoger Stone shares, quickly deletes Instagram photo of federal judge on his case Barack, Michelle Obama expected to refrain from endorsing in 2020 Dem primary: report Why the national emergency? A second term may be Trump’s only shield from an indictment MORE’s team, we are glad they are leaving the Franklin County Republican Committee."

Local party committee members have been thrust into a highly unusual and potentially uncomfortable situation this election cycle.

Halvorson narrowly lost to Shuster in the April primary, 49.5 percent to 50.5 percent, despite being heavily outspent.

But in a surprise twist, Halvorson secured enough write-in votes from Democrats to run in the general election and announced that he would accept the Democratic nomination — a largely unprecedented move.

Halvorson has seized on reports of Shuster’s relationship with a top airline lobbyist and painted the veteran lawmaker as a Washington insider, a common theme in many races this election cycle.

But for all the anti-Washington sentiment, few incumbents have been unseated in their primary races.

Still, Halvorson is confident that momentum is steadily building in his favor.

“I understand incumbents are still dominating and controlling the outcome with their money, but in this district, it’s changed,” Halvorson said in a brief telephone interview Tuesday.