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Unopposed GOP candidates look to regain Pa. House

November 02, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday's elections for president, U.S. House of Representatives and Pennsylvania state Senate, Franklin County's representation in the state House will be unchanged as all four Republican incumbents are running unopposed.

What might change in the House, however, is majority control, which Democrats now hold by the slimmest of margins, 102 seats to 101 for the Republicans. Despite Democrats holding the majority, the House speaker is Dennis O'Brien, a Republican from the Philadelphia area.

Three of the four House members whose districts include portions of Franklin County are running for their third two-year terms - Rob Kauffman in the 89th District, Todd Rock in the 90th and Mark Keller in the 86th. Dan Moul, whose 91st District includes all of Adams County and two precincts in Franklin County, was elected in 2006.

"I think today, I would handicap our chances at better than 50/50 of taking back the House," Kauffman said Friday. While races in the southeastern part of the state do not bode well for Republicans, Kauffman sees some seats going from Democrat to Republican in the blue-collar districts of southwestern Pennsylvania.

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"I would tend to agree with those numbers. I'm hopeful," said Keller, whose district includes all of Perry County and all or part of five townships in Franklin County. At the same time, he said, "we may win some, but we may lose some and end up right back where we are now."

"At this point, I think it's an uphill battle," Rock said of the GOP retaking the majority. A high Democratic turnout Tuesday for Barack Obama would work against Republican chances, he said.

U.S. Rep. Jack Murtha's comments about some constituents being racist and not willing to vote for Obama could have a backlash against House Democrats in that region, Kauffman said. The "bonusgate" investigations involving House Majority Leader H. William DeWeese of Greene County also could play a role, he said.

Regardless of which party holds the majority in 2009, it will be faced with a 2008-09 state budget with an operational deficit of perhaps $2 billion, said Kauffman, who introduced GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin at last week's rally at Shippensburg (Pa.) University.

"This month alone, we could be facing a $200 million deficit," said Kauffman, whose district includes part of Cumberland County.

"We could definitely reach that $2 billion mark," Rock said. "No matter who's in the majority, we're going to have a problem with that."

"The revenue just isn't coming in as projected" because of the economy slowing, Keller said. The Republican House Caucus, he said, has been cutting its budget in recent years, but not the House Democrats or the Republican and Democratic caucuses in the Senate.

That is not a large part of the budget, "but it's all taxpayer's money," Keller said. Similar prudence will have to shown in crafting the 2009-10 budget, he said.

"The number one challenge, and really the only challenge when you don't have any money, is meeting the fiscal demands of the state without raising taxes," Kauffman said. While Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell is making cuts in the budget where he can, Kauffman said a call for new taxes could be part of the February budget presentation for 2009-10.

"Next year is going to be a very hard budget unless (the economy) turns around completely," Keller said.

Rock said wrangling over the budget could go well past the June 30 deadline, with Republicans arguing cuts and Democrats pitching tax increases.

Being in the majority does not necessarily make it easier to govern, Kauffman said.

"When we've been in the majority in the past, we've fallen short," he said. "I am hopeful if we are back in the majority, we will have a majority leader who stands up to the governor and holds the line."

Whichever party holds the majority in 2009, Franklin County still will have a relatively large delegation for its population of about 140,000.

"We kind of work as a team" in Harrisburg, Keller said. "We try and support each other."

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