Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) eked out a narrow primary victory in April over his Republican challenger – and he may have to again face the same man, this time a Democrat, for the general election in November. | AP Photo
Rep. Bill Shuster has a pest problem that he just can’t squash.
The Pennsylvania Republican is on the verge of facing the same candidate he beat by a razor-thin margin in the Republican primary during the general election in November. Only this time, his opponent, Art Halvorson, could be on the ticket as a Democrat.
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Shuster, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman, eked out a narrow primary victory in April, defeating Halvorson by about 1,200 votes out of more than 97,500 cast despite outspending his tea party challenger by huge margins.
Now, Halvorson is on the verge of winning the Democratic nomination for his district based on write-in votes, if he chooses to accept it.
“I’m sure Shuster’s sweating it, trying to figure out what I’m going to do,” Halvorson, a retired Coast Guard captain, said in an interview.
Halvorson still hasn’t been offered the Democratic slot. There’s one more county in the district that has to certify its results, which will come after a June 15 court hearing.
But a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of State said it’s unlikely the other Democratic challenger has enough votes in that county to change the outcome, meaning the nomination is likely Halvorson’s if he wants it.
“You could call it miraculous,” Halvorson said about the opportunity to face Shuster again in the fall after running against him unsuccessfully in two primaries. “It’s totally unexpected, I’ll say that.”
But even though Halvorson nearly toppled Shuster in April, it’s likely he would face a much bigger challenge running as a Democrat come November.
Pennsylvania’s 9th Congressional District is solidly Republican — Mitt Romney won 63 percent of the vote in 2012 — and a Shuster, either Bill or his father Bud, has been its congressman for more than 40 years.
But Shuster has been dogged by ethical questions about his relationship with a top airline lobbyist while leading the Transportation panel and trying to push through a major aviation overhaul that would benefit airlines.
Just days after Shuster pushed his overhaul of the Federal Aviation Administration through committee, he was lounging poolside in Miami with his girlfriend and her boss, Nick Calio, president of Airlines for America, the major industry group.
Halvorson, who also unsuccessfully ran against Shuster in the 2014 primary, seized on the chairman’s personal relationship, repeatedly hammering him over the conflict of interest during a debate in April.
“I think it’s shameful. He doesn’t know what ethics mean anymore,” Halvorson said.
If he chooses to run as the Democratic candidate, Halvorson said he has no intentions of abandoning his Republican roots should he win and wouldn’t even plan to coordinate with the Pennsylvania Democratic Party in the run-up to the election.
“I would be running as a Republican,” he said, although “Democrat” would be next to his name on the ballot. “Call it a nuance, but an important nuance.”
But some others aren’t so convinced Halvorson’s plan would work.
While Shuster had no comment when approached by Politico, his campaign spokesman said Halvorson won’t be successful in his quest.
“Pennsylvanians have seen this story before when Arlen Specter switched from Republican to Democrat like Art Halvorson is trying to do now, and I would expect Halvorson to have the same result – a loss,” Shuster campaign spokesman Casey Contres wrote Politico in an email.
And even Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.), longtime chairman of the Philadelphia Democratic Party, said he would pick Shuster over Halvorson.
“I’d rather have Shuster than [Halvorson]. … He’s a nice man, he’s a good guy. And [on] transportation, he takes care of us, that’s what we gotta do,” Brady said in an interview.
“A real Democrat has no chance, so why would I want get a Republican in sheep’s clothing and another tea partier? We don’t need that.”