Rep. Shuster To Face Tea Party Challenger Next Year
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Now, during the government shutdown, many House Republicans said the policy was unwise, but persisted for weeks in voting with their speaker, John Boehner. One reason was party loyalty. Another reason, according to analysts, was fear. Lawmakers did not want to run the risk of a challenge in a Republican primary from candidates saying they weren't trying hard enough.
The crisis finally ended when 87 Republicans joined Democrats to vote to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling. Now, some do face primary challenges, including Republican Congressman Bill Shuster, who holds a seat in rural Pennsylvania that his father also held, and who has been long considered a social and fiscal conservative. Here's NPR national political correspondent, Don Gonyea.
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DON GONYEA, BYLINE: At 7 AM on a recent weekday, the Bedford Diner in Bedford, Pennsylvania is jumping. The morning special is the 222 breakfast.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It is two pancakes, two eggs and two bacon for $2.22. It only lasts till 10:00. And then after that, it goes up to $5.55.
GONYEA: Way in the back, some tables have been pushed together for a weekly prayer breakfast that's really a gathering of old friends, all military veterans, some retired. Fifty-eight year old Art Halvorson is a regular here. He's a real estate developer and former career Coast Guard pilot and now a Tea Party-backed candidate going after seven-term Congressman Bill Shuster in next year's Republican primary.
ART HALVORSON: It's primarily because of the fiscal issues and the way the establishment party is behaving, and he represents that. John Boehner represents that. And we need to replace John Boehner as speaker. And the way you do that is to put some true authentic conservatives in Congress who can vote him out.
GONYEA: Halvorson says Congressman Shuster is too quick to cut deals, too tied to the old ways of spending and dispensing political favors. Before Shuster's election 12 years ago, his father Bud held the seat for nearly three decades. Bud was the powerful chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Today, Bill Shuster chairs that same committee. In fact, not far from the diner is Interstate 99, which is officially named the Bud Shuster Highway. Art Halvorson is not impressed.
HALVORSON: He plays the game. He knows it fairly well. They've been practicing it for a long time, both with his dad and himself and with others that comprise that establishment, quote-unquote, "leadership cadre." And they have to be replaced.
GONYEA: Halvorson has an uphill climb. The Shuster name as been a winner here since the 1970s and Congressman Shuster will likely have a huge financial advantage. Halvorson has put $100,000 of his own money into his campaign, and he says he's getting support from both inside and outside the district. A conservative PAC called the Madison Project has also run anti-Shuster radio ads.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: With Bill Shuster voting you raise the debt ceiling not once or twice, but a staggering eight times - yes, you heard that correctly.
GONYEA: Terry Madonna, a political analyst from Franklin and Marshall College says the Tea Party remains strong in rural Pennsylvania, but that right now, the movement has nowhere near the energy you saw in 2010. Plus, he says, the Tea Party can no longer sneak up on an unsuspecting incumbent.
TERRY MADONNA: Bill Shuster is certainly aware that he has an opponent. He certainly is aware of how conservative his district is. But there is no way, no way that Shuster is going to be caught surprised by this.
GONYEA: Last week, Congressman Shuster attended the annual Eisenhower Dinner, sponsored by the county GOP in the town of Greencastle. He began his speech by thanking the party for helping him rise within the GOP ranks in the House. He repeatedly mentioned his committee chairmanship.
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REPRESENTATIVE BILL SHUSTER: You can't become the chairman, you can't be in Congress unless you have great support from the folks here at home. So, being the chairman, I owe it to you, putting your trust in me and supporting me. And that's why I was able to be able to rise to be the chairman of a committee in Congress. And again, I owe you that great debt of gratitude.
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GONYEA: During a break in the speeches, Shuster went from table to table, chatting and shaking hands, while at the other end of the room, his challenger, Art Halvorson, did the same. And afterward, as Shuster hurried to his waiting car, he had no interest in talking about his reelection or his challenger.
SHUSTER: I'm - I'm not - right now, I'm just doing my job in Washington. I'm not really focused on that at all. But thanks a lot for asking.
GONYEA: All right. It's still early. The primary is more than six months away, and it's not yet clear if Halvorson will get any traction. Even so, Pennsylvania's ninth congressional district can already be seen as a microcosm of the internal battles that are taking place within the GOP nationally. Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.