Pennsylvania GOP Leaders Rally Behind Grassroots Candidate

Monday, 26 May 2014 02:49 PM

By John Gizzi

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Conservative Ryan Aument's smashing victory in the Republican state Senate primary in Pennsylvania's Lancaster County last week was a rare case of local party leaders rallying behind the candidate clearly favored by the conservative grass roots rather than a fellow GOP "insider."

Aument, 37, a two-term state representative, handily defeated veteran state Rep. Gordon Denlinger with more than 60 percent of the vote as the two Republicans vied for an open state Senate seat.

The more conservative Aument's blessing by party chieftains was in sharp contrast to that in Pennsylvania's 28th Congressional District (York County) earlier this year.

When veteran GOP state Sen. Michael Waugh resigned, York County party leaders gave the nomination to succeed him to state Rep. Ron Miller, leading conservative businessman and state Senate hopeful Scott Wagner, furious for being snubbed, to launch a write-in campaign

In March, with his candidacy fueled by fellow angry conservatives, Wagner made headlines by becoming the first Pennsylvanian elected to the state legislature on write-in votes. In so doing, Wagner rolled up nearly half the votes against Miller and the Democratic nominee.

It never went that far in the 36th District. Strongly endorsed by Lancaster Republican County committee members, Aument, a U.S. Army infantry veteran of Iraq, went on to defeat six-termer Denlinger in the primary.

"We have a rigorous, thorough, well-respected endorsement process," Republican County Chairman Ann Womble told Newsmax. "Our members are the rank and file of the party, not nameless, faceless people making secret decisions in smoke-filled rooms. We take our jobs seriously and conduct this thorough process out of respect for the voters and the community we cherish."

Aument, who spoke to Newsmax between Memorial Day celebrations, explained that he and Denlinger "had voting records and opinions that were very similar. But the difference — and one that our team strongly emphasized — was that I was not just going to vote the right way but provide 'leadership that gets results.'"

In less than four years in Harrisburg, Aument was the architect of a landmark teacher evaluation measure, which he said "revamps how we evaluate our public school teachers, taking into account student performance and teacher tenure."

Over strong opposition from teachers' unions, Aument's measure was enacted in 2012 and signed into law by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.

Aument also took an "Integrity Pledge," vowing not to take the per diem reimbursement for mileage that all legislators are entitled to. With two past speakers of the state House of Representatives jailed for using legislative staff for political chores and reports of numerous lawmakers collecting undocumented per diems, Aument said, "Reform is a cause that resonates with Pennsylvanians. And 'reform' and 'conservative' need not be mutually exclusive."

Through meetings at the homes of supporters, several mailings, and personal phone calls to county committee members, Aument drove home his agenda. In a straw poll conducted at an initial meeting of the county committee in January, he was the easy winner over Denlinger.

"We also contacted some of the tea party groups," he said. "Most were very supportive."

On Feb. 18, the two candidates made presentations to the 173 committee members from the 36th District that gathered at the Farm and Home Center in Lancaster. Aument made his presentation in the form of a "Blueprint for a Stronger Pennsylvania," not unlike the "Contract for America" that Republicans rode to capturing Congress in 1994.

Aument led on the first ballot with 60 percent of the vote. On the second, he was two votes shy of the two-thirds vote needed for the committee's formal endorsement. On the third ballot, he was endorsed by the county party, which went to work on his behalf in the primary and helped him roll up his landslide win last week.

Assured of election to the state Senate, Aument wants to pursue an end to taxpayer collection of public-sector union dues not unlike that championed by Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

"And what will naturally follow that is a right-to-work law like that which took effect in Michigan last year," he said.

Ryan Aument is clearly a young man to watch in Pennsylvania politics. In taking this latest step in his career, he also demonstrated that his party's "establishment" and its "conservative grass roots" can work together and get things done.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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