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Democrats to choose Shuster's possible successor

January 15, 2001

Democrats to choose Shuster's possible successor



By STACEY DANZUSO / Staff Writer, Chambersburg


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Democratic parties in the 9th Congressional District will whittle down their field of candidates to replace retiring Rep. Bud Shuster at a meeting next week.

Of five potential candidates, only state Rep. Jeff Coy, D-Shippensburg, is from Franklin County.

Coy had not made a decision as of Monday whether or not he would run for the seat that Shuster, a 14-term Republican, will vacate Jan. 31.

The 9th District includes all or part of 11 counties, including Franklin and Fulton.

Representatives from the counties' Democratic parties will meet Jan. 24 in Huntingdon County to meet the candidates and vote on their final nominee, said Shannon Bilger, chairman of the Mifflin County Democratic Party.

Bilger is optimistic Democrats have a good shot at winning the seat, despite the Republican lock on it for the last three decades.

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"We are going to win this one. The conventional wisdom is that Democrats can't win this district, but some of these candidates can," he said.

William Butts, chairman of the Franklin County Democratic Party, agreed.

"This isn't a Republican position. We have just as good an opportunity to elect a Democratic candidate as they do a Republican," he said.

Stacey Brumbaugh, a Blair County resident, and Scott Conklin, a Center County Commissioner, are in the running.

State Rep. Bud George, D-Clearfield County, Greg Morris, a businessman from Blair County, and Coy are potential candidates.

"They are invited (to next week's meeting), but are under no obligation to attend," Bilger said.

Brumbaugh is a law professor at Penn State University and has served as communications director for first lady Hillary Clinton, Bilger said.

Conklin ran for the state legislature in the highly Republican area in 1996 and 1998, both times winning nearly half the vote and suffering extremely narrow losses, Bilger said.

He said he believes a Democratic nominee with conservative social views and a moderate economic perspective can secure the seat.

"Democrats have care and concern for the working people. We want tax breaks for the middle class and working people instead of millionaires and billionaires," Bilger said.

The change in the dynamics of the race and the House of Representatives will also have an impact on the election.

"First and most importantly, one of the biggest reasons people voted for Shuster, particularly Democrats in the past, was his effectiveness in bringing projects into the area, and nobody wanted to throw out somebody in a position of leadership," Bilger said.

"It's altogether a different race now that Shuster isn't in it," Butts said. "I think it's time we move forward with another candidate and hopefully it will be a Democrat."

Bilger said he expects the Democrats to take control of the House of Representatives in 2002, so a Republican elected now will have no power then.

"With this case, we would have a freshman Republican in a Democratic-controlled house with virtually no power to do anything," he said.

Since Shuster announced his retirement earlier this month, the names of possible Republican replacements have surfaced.

So far, Republicans have a field of more than a dozen candidates, including Shuster's son, Bill Shuster, and state Rep. Patrick Fleagle, R-Waynesboro.

Gov. Tom Ridge will announce the date for a special election to fill the seat in early February. He will likely postpone filling the seat until the next scheduled statewide election May 15.

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