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Republican Fred Keller wins Pa. 12th special election. Pa. delegation remains at 9-9 split between GOP and Democrats

The state lawmaker from Snyder County embraced the president during the campaign.

  • Ed Mahon/Spotlight PA
Republican Fred Keller speaks during a campaign stop on May 2, 2019, in Lycoming County.

 Ed Mahon / PA Post

Republican Fred Keller speaks during a campaign stop on May 2, 2019, in Lycoming County.

Last year, Pennsylvania Democrats had big wins in congressional races.

In a southwestern Pennsylvania special election, Conor Lamb flipped a House seat in a district that Trump had won handily. Then, in the fall, Democrats picked up two seats in the Philly suburbs and another in the Lehigh Valley.

But in an area where support for President Donald Trump runs deep, Republican Fred Keller cruised to victory Tuesday. The Associated Press called the race shortly before 10 p.m.

The victory came after Trump flew into northcentral Pennsylvania on Monday evening for a rally for Keller, and after the president recorded a robocall message for him.

“I need you to get out and vote for Fred Keller, a great guy who will help me keep America great,” Trump said in the message. “As a state representative, Fred fought against tax increases, supported our vets, and stood up for our 2nd Amendment rights.”

Keller will fill the rest of the term of Republican Tom Marino, who announced his resignation in January. He’ll represent the 12th congressional district, which covers more than a dozen counties in central and northern Pennsylvania.

Keller, 53, is a former plant operations manager for a Conestoga Wood Specialties facility in Snyder County, and he was first elected to the state House in 2010. He has a 90 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union Foundation, which tracks votes on a wide range of issues, including fiscal and social.

He defeated Marc Friedenberg, a lawyer and cyber security instructor at Penn State. In  November, Friedenberg challenged Marino and lost by more than 32 percentage points.

Republican congressional candidate Fred Keller speaks with Ben Taylor of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on May 2, 2019. The chamber endorsed Keller during an event at Allison Crane & Rigging, outside Williamsport.

Ed Mahon / PA Post

Republican congressional candidate Fred Keller speaks with Ben Taylor of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on May 2, 2019. The chamber endorsed Keller during an event at Allison Crane & Rigging, outside Williamsport.

In this campaign, Friedenberg criticized Trump over the trade war with China, which Friedenberg said was raising equipment prices for Pennsylvania farms while also lowering demand for their products.

At a forum in April, Keller said Congress should give the president “some latitude” when it comes to tariffs. “While it may be tough at some times, things worth doing aren’t always easy,” he said.

The race between Friedenberg and Keller had less attention from outside groups and donors than Lamb’s special election win in southwestern Pennsylvania last year. And Tuesday’s special election for the 12th district represented a steeper climb than the contest for the district Lamb won.

In 2016, Trump won Lamb’s district by about 20 points. The same year, he won the 12th congressional district by 36 percentage points according to Roll Call.

NextGen America, a group created by progressive billionaire Tom Steyer, had a regional organizer in State College to register and mobilize young voters.

“Marc Friedenberg is the only candidate talking about and taking the lead on issues young people care about, so we are encouraging voters to consider that as we motivate them to turn out,” Maya Humes, a spokesperson for the group, said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund endorsed Keller. House Freedom Action, which is affiliated with the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus, recently spent almost $41,737 on postage, direct mailings and digital ads supporting Keller, OpenSecrets.org reported.

Republican Fred Keller, left, shakes hands with Democrat Marc Friedenberg ahead of a debate for Pennsylvania's 12th congressional district on May 2, 2019.

Ed Mahon / PA Post

Republican Fred Keller, left, shakes hands with Democrat Marc Friedenberg ahead of a debate for Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district on May 2, 2019.

While Keller was heavily favored throughout the contest, analyzing Tuesday’s results could be one of way of measuring Trump’s popularity.

Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016, despite big losses in the Philly suburbs, because he picked up votes in other parts of the state — including the 12th’s Lycoming County

About two-thirds of voters in Lycoming — which includes the city of Williamsport and is home to the Little League Baseball World Series went for Republican Mitt Romney in 2012. Four years later, Trump won more than 70 percent of the vote.

That’s the same county where Trump flew to for a rally Monday evening

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