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PA-5:The One Open Seat

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Nestled in on the northern border with New York, Pennsylvania’s fifth congressional district is the largest in the state and includes parts of sixteen counties. Sparsely populated, wooded and mountainous, most of the district is between Lewistown, Lockhaven, Oil City & Bradford. The I-80 corridor snakes right through the middle of the district, which makes tourism and the service industries the most important. The district is also affected by the presence of State College, which means that many people who reside in the district do no vote. The district is heavily Republican, one of the most so in the state, electing Republicans since the mid-nineteenth century. The district went for Bush by a 21 point margin in 2004 and is this rated as R+10. Although Rs dominate this district, Democrats are well represented on the state and county level, and the district includes Democratic controlled counties like Lycoming. Despite this, this Democratic trend at the local level does not translate into actual Congressmen, and Democrats have not even tried to contest this seat often. Previous Congressmen include Bill Clinger, Al Johnson & Joseph Ammarman.

The current Congressman from the fifth district is Jon Peterson. Starting out as a grocery store owner that turned into a chain, and after dabbling in local politics and a decade long stint in both houses of the state legislature, he ran for Congress after the retirement of Bill Clinger in 1996. He faced Daniel Gorduek and Bill Shuster in the primary, coming out on top with 38%, and then proceeded to defeat his Democratic opponent with 60% of the vote. In the next four elections, he did not even face Democratic opposition, scoring above 85% each time with token Libertarian opposition. In 2006 he did have a opponent beating opponent Don Hilliard with 60%, showing that the Democratic wave even touched strong, safe politicians. That, however, was his last contest, as he retired early this month, claiming “family medical” reasons. Peterson has been in the headlines lately over his advocacy against tolling the I-80 bridge, as he claims that this will substantially hurt the tourism sector and pose an economic threat to his district. Peterson is also known for having the worst environmental rating in Congress, and he is strongly in favor of tapping into untouched domestic energy.

Peterson’s surprise retirement shocked many in the district and set off a scramble to replace him. At first the DCCC tried to recruit a strong challenger, trying to pull off a coup as they did last cycle in the 10th. But most Democrats have passed on the race, and the remaining few that have not, like Lock Haven Mayor Rick Vilello, among others, are unlikely to give the eventual GOP nominee any opposition. Among the Republicans known to be looking at the race or that have already declared for it are ex-Centre Commissioner Chris Exarchos, Iraq war veteran John Krohn, Elk County Coroner Lou Radkowski, developer Matt Shaner, Clarion Mayor John Stroup and Centre County GOP Chair T.T. Thompson. Unless the eventual Republican nominee is extremely weak, the real race for the seat will happen in the Republican primary. As the DCCC will have to many other seats to defend to focus energy on this, this seat should be a Republican hold.

District Statistics

2006 Election
John Peterson(R)- 60%
Don Hilliard(D) 40%

2004 Election
John Peterson(R)- 88%
Thomas Martin(L) 12%

Bush(R)- 61%
Kerry(D)- 39%

1996 Primary

John Peterson(R)- 38%
Daniel Gordeuk(R)- 28%
Bill Shuster(R)-18%

Michael Barone’s Almanac

January 23, 2008 at 11:00 pm
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