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GOP hopes to hang onto PA's 16th Congressional District

Written by Marie Cusick | Oct 21, 2016 1:42 PM

For the first time in nearly two decades, Pennsylvania's 16th Congressional District has an open seat. The area, which covers most of Lancaster County and parts of Berks and Chester counties, has traditionally been a Republican stronghold.

But with the retirement of longtime GOP Congressman Joe Pitts, changing demographics, and a controversial Presidential contest, Democrats are making a big push to flip the seat, while Republicans are working hard to hold onto it.

"I feel very good about us"

A major concern for Republicans in this election is whether the controversy surrounding Donald Trump's candidacy could hurt down-ballot races, like this one. House speaker Paul Ryan (R- Wisconsin) came to Lancaster County earlier this month to stump for the Republican candidate: two term-state senator Lloyd Smucker (R- Lancaster).

"We need you to send us Lloyd Smucker, so he can help us get these solutions into law," Ryan told a crowd of about 80 people at Wenger Feeds.

He said he wasn't worried Trump would hurt Smucker's chances.

"I feel very good about us," Ryan told reporters. "I feel very good about Lloyd in particular, but I feel very good about where we are."

That was on a Thursday. The following day, the now-infamous videotape emerged of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women. By the time Monday rolled around, Ryan said he'd no longer defend Trump and told his fellow Republicans to do what they thought best for their own races.

Smucker sticks with Trump

In a debate that evening, Smucker called Trumps remarks "appalling"

 "It's completely indefensible," he told the audience.

But he said he's sticking by his endorsement of him, because he thinks a Clinton presidency would be worse.

 "We've had someone, who as Secretary of State mishandled classified information and then lied about it to the American public." Smucker said.

His Democratic opponent, nonprofit consultant, Christina Hartman has seized on the issue.

 "What [Republicans] have at the top of their ticket is a very temperamentally unfit candidate who mocks the disabled and denigrates women, and that's not okay," says Hartman. "Voters are not going to vote for that. They're also not going to vote for people who support that."

Despite the bitter fight at the top of the ticket, pollsters have tended to view the 16th District as pretty favorable for Republicans. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put it on a selected list of districts it thinks it could flip and has provided support to Hartman. Earlier this week, the Cook Political Report shifted the district from "likely Republican" to "lean Republican."

Familiar positions on the issues

On the issues, Hartman and Smucker have familiar partisan stances. When it comes to gun rights, Hartman would expand background checks, while Smucker says the current system is working. Smucker wants to repeal Obamacare, while Hartman says she wants to fix its problems. On immigration, Smucker also takes a harder line. He wants tighter border security and supports a declaration of war against ISIS.

 "We have today, radical Islam that is out to destroy us," he says.

Hartman, who has done humanitarian work around the world, promotes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and wants the U-S to take in refugees.

 "This is a country that was founded on immigrants," she says. "We are all immigrants."

On the economy, Smucker touts a piece of legislation he sponsored in the state Senate that incentivizes growth in downtowns, like Lancaster City.  He also says it's vital to cut government red tape and regulations.

 "We have to create an environmental where businesses can grow and prosper."

Hartman says promoting public education and job training programs are a key way to ensure people get good jobs.

 "Folks want to make sure their children are prepared," she says. "For whatever's coming their way in the future."

Columbia businessman Shawn House is also on the ballot as a Libertarian. He supports legalizing marijuana, ending what he calls the 'racist' war on drugs, and drastically reducing the size of the federal government.

 "We need to reduce these alphabet agencies that serve no Constitutional purpose."

House wants to restore people's individual freedoms, and Constitutional rights. Compared to the bitter tone in the Presidential race, the candidates for the 16th District have sounded a lot more positive. Hartman says she will be a moderate voice in Washington, and bring people together, while Smucker says he wants put the country back on the right track, to help people achieve the American Dream. Voters have a little more than two weeks to decide which message resonates with them.

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