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Candidates in crowded 13th Congressional District GOP primary try to stand out

Written by Rachel McDevitt | May 7, 2018 5:57 AM
candidate-collage-13th_district.jpg

The candidates in the Republican primary for Pennsylvania's 13th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives are, clockwise from top left, Art Halvorson, Sen. John Eichelberger, state Rep. Steve Bloom, Travis Schooley, Ben Hornberger, Col. Douglas Mastriano, Bernard Washabaugh III and Dr. John Joyce. (Photo: File photos)

(Greencastle) -- Pennsylvania's 13th Congressional district is one of the state's largest geographically.

It's mainly made up of the old 9th district, which was redrawn when the state Supreme Court created a new map earlier this year.

The 13th includes all of Adams and Franklin counties and part of Cumberland County and stretches to Westmoreland County.

It also has the largest Republican field in the Pennsylvania primary with eight candidates--and they're looking for ways to stand out.

Beth Dixon and her husband Wiley turned out with other voters for a recent candidate meet-and-greet in Franklin County to see where the eight stand on issues important to them, like taxes, immigration, and the Second Amendment. 

Turns out, their platforms are pretty similar. Which, the couple realized.

"In this district, if you're running on a Republican ticket you're probably going to be fairly closely aligned with where I am," Wiley Dixon said. "If you're not, you're not, you don't have much of a chance. So that makes it, in a way, a little harder to pick one."

The Dixons were looking for a candidate who can hold their own in Washington, speak for constituents, and not get caught up in the cycle of non-stop campaigning.

They said they want to see more done to reform taxes-- not just cut them-- and to secure the borders.

"The Republicans now have the House, the Senate, and the executive branch. And what are we getting for it? Very little, I believe," Wiley Dixon said. 

Skyla Vorhes of Chambersburg said she's very happy with President Donald Trump's performance so far. She wants a congressman who will support Trump's agenda, but also be his own person.

"I do think we want to make sure that somebody is in there that's going to be strong, that's actually going to continue to stand up for what they believe. Work for us," Vorhes said. 

Vorhes had already talked to a few candidates and liked all of them. She said she and her husband will have to talk it over and figure out who will get their votes.

The 13th Congressional District seat was left wide open with the announced retirement of Congressman Bill Shuster, who's held the job since 2001. He was elected after the retirement of his father Bud Shuster, who first entered office in 1973.

With a break in the political dynasty, and a new congressional district map enacted, candidates flooded the field: two state lawmakers, two former challengers to Bill Shuster, two ex-military men, a doctor and a real estate developer all say they will be the one to stand strong for the district.

Terry Madonna, a political analyst with Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, described it this way: "It's a new district without an incumbent. Game on."

Madonna moderated a forum with the candidates and said--on the issues--they all started to blend together.

He said a candidate's ability to use social media, his campaign ads, his network of existing supporters or even his home county could help him stand out among the rest. But,

"Their positions on the issues probably aren't going to be the most relevant in determining who wins the primary," Madonna said. 

So, what does each candidate say sets them apart?

Some said it's their military experience.

"I served both my country and my community as a life member of a volunteer fire company," former Marine Ben Hornberger told WPSU. 

"Military background; 29 years as a search and rescue helicopter pilot, an instructor pilot, a test pilot and then a senior leader in the Coast Guard after 9/11," retired Coast Guard captain and previous Shuster challenger Art Halvorson said. 

''Unmatched leadership of all the candidates. I've led men and women from across the state, across the nation and the world fighting our foes in Afghanistan and Iraq," said retired Army Colonel Doug Mastriano.

''I have three key areas that I have pretty good experience in; one was in the military. I was a sergeant intelligence analyst. I focused on North Korea, China, Russia," said Travis Schooley, who now oversees water operations in Quincy Township, Franklin County.

For the two state lawmakers running, it's all about their conservative record.

"I can talk about what I've done, leadership, responsibilities I've had. Things that set me apart from what other people promise, I've delivered," said state Senator John Eichelberger of Blair County, whose district nearly fits inside the 13th Congressional District.

"With me you have a track record, you can go check my votes over the last seven and a half years and see that I've actually walked the walk, not just talked the talk," said State Representative Stephen Bloom of Cumberland County.

And some tout their outsider status. 

''Well of course my business background is where I'm going to be standing out from the rest of the crowd. And not a career politician, that's another one. I'm self-funding my campaign, that's another one," said real estate Developer Bernie Washabaugh.

''People have looked at me for my medical abilities as a problem-solver," said Dr. John Joyce, a dermatologist.

Analysts say name recognition might not carry a candidate far in a district that heavily favored anti-establishment Donald Trump.

And with such a crowded field, it will only take about 15 percent of the vote to clinch the GOP nomination on primary election day.

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