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Congressional Primary Heats Up in Pa.

Congressional Primary Heats Up in Pa.
Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa. (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Friday, 22 April 2016 08:30 AM Current | Bio | Archive

A lot of attention — even in this highly charged political season — is on Pennsylvania's retiring GOP Rep. Joe Pitts.

Yes, all eyes are on Pennsylvania’s Republican presidential primary (April 26), but there's great interest in the rancorous House primary in the 16th District (Lancaster-Chester Counties), local sources told me, primarily due to the clashing styles of the two candidates.

The conflict between the tea party or “outsider” wing of the GOP and its more establishment faction is embodied respectively in the primary bout between businessman and former Lancaster County GOP Chairman Chet Beiler and State Sen. Lloyd Smucker.

The protagonists are both sons of Amish families with deep roots in the community. In addition, both are 52 and graduated from Lancaster Menonite High School together. “And Chet is my second cousin,” opponent Smucker told me.

Beiler has been steeped into modern conservatism since his days as an undergraduate at Pepperdine University. There, he drove in then-first lady Nancy Reagan’s motorcade, escorted Nobel laureate Milton Friedman to campus, and volunteered in the 1992 U.S. Senate campaign of conservative TV commentator Bruce Herschensohn.

Returning home to launch a variety of successful businesses, Beiler made losing bids for nomination to be lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania and state auditor general. In the process, he built up a strong following among fellow conservative “outsiders” that are now volunteers in his congressional race.

“There is an abundance of volunteers because our message is resonating,” Beiler told me, “And it’s an easy message: stop bankrupting America, increase economic opportunity through growth, secure our border, and honor our Constitution.”

Like two of the three GOP presidential hopefuls, Beiler supports abolishing the U.S. Department of Education and restoring education oversight to local authorities.

The businessman-candidate has also hit hard at some of his opponent’s votes in the senate. These include voting with Democrats to expand the Medicaid to accommodate Obamacare for Pennsylvania, against a bill to provide e-verify (a free internet program to verify employment and background), and for the controversial gas tax increase that was a major factor in the defeat of chief proponent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in 2014.

Without hesitation, Smucker explained each of his votes.

“As anyone who drives here knows, Pennsylvania needs more money for infrastructure, and infrastructure is a core function of government,” he told us, “That was what the gas tax vote was about.”

Smucker also voiced his belief that “e-verify should be a function of the federal government.” He supported Medicaid expansion because, in his words, “it would mean that tax dollars come back to Pennsylvania.”

Such votes do not change, Smucker said, “My firm belief is that Obamacare must be repealed and replaced with something better. In addition, we must secure our borders.”

The lawmaker also pointed to his own business background. Having purchased a dry wall business from an older brother while in high school, the young Smucker later built it up into a construction company.

“And I have the endorsement of the National Rifle Association, the National Association of Realtors, and two of the three Republican county committees [in the 16th District],” he added.

But some conservatives are not convinced such endorsements are such a blessing after all. As one activist in the Lancaster County GOP who requested anonymity told me, “Don’t discount Donald Trump supporters or tea partiers, who are prevalent here and very anti-incumbent. Endorsements from groups seen as ‘the establishment’ may be Lloyd’s albatross.”

No matter how much rancor is stirred up between “the fighting Amish” before April 26, it is still almost certain that the winner will succeed Rep. Pitts. The district has been firmly in Republican hands since the Civil War, when it was held by Lincoln’s congressional ally on the abolition of slavery, Rep. Thaddeus Stevens.

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

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A lot of attention — even in this highly charged political season — is on Pennsylvania's retiring GOP Rep. Joe Pitts.
pennsylvania, congress, beiler, pitts
Friday, 22 April 2016 08:30 AM
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