Shuster’s November challenge

Days after a long, hard-fought Republican primary ended Tuesday with a comfortable win by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th District, a second fight against a Democrat might seem anticlimactic. A Democrat hasn’t represented the region in several decades, after all, and it’s often rated as the state’s most conservative.

Nevertheless, Shuster can’t take a win for granted: In November, he faces an opponent from the other party – Alanna Hartzok of Franklin County – who secured more primary votes than he did.

Hartzok, a writer and activist, first ran against Shuster for the Green Party in the 2001 special election that first earned him his seat. Her views, a unique blend of local tax reform, economic fairness and participatory democracy, don’t square completely with either Democratic or Republican orthodoxy.

“I have a new brand of Democrat … that is not your big-government Democrat,” she said Friday. “It’s kind of out of the box beyond old left and old right approaches.”

Hartzok has praised the City of Altoona for shifting property taxes to land, not building, values – a move she said encourages local development and spurs free-market capitalism. She’s long been active in moves to reform local government statewide, she said.

In Tuesday’s primary, an unopposed Hartzok secured 30,601 Democrats’ votes against 24,106 for Shuster, who faced two challengers. While the total number of Republican primary votes outstripped Hartzok’s by over 15,000, she could earn a substantial share in November.

Shuster has faced Democratic challengers in every re-election year, handily defeating them each time. His 2012 opponent, nurse Karen Ramsburg, lost in a 62-to-38-percent vote.

Hartzok said she knows she faces challenges, including what will likely be an enormous money advantage for Shuster, but she plans to secure money for TV ads while running a grassroots campaign based on small-scale capitalism.

“You ask me, ‘How’s a Democrat going to get in with these Republicans? Well, nobody wants to give their hard-earned money over to corporations,” she said.

Corbett: missing voters

As several news outlets noted shortly after the dust cleared Tuesday, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett got nearly 27,000 fewer primary votes than did his second-in-command, Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley. While it’s not uncommon for important or controversial leaders to lose protest votes over lesser-known candidates – especially when Corbett had a declared challenger, Bob Guzzardi, for much of the race – a map of the vote gap reveals just where he lost support either from write-ins or “none of the above” choices.

All results are considered unofficial until certified by election authorities.

A county-by-county map posted on news site PoliticsPA shows Corbett’s weakest support was in a broad swath of central and northern Pennsylvania, with a particularly big gap in counties like Elk, Perry and Potter. Some on the site noted that his worst area corresponded closely with Nittany Lion country: Centre County, for example, sported a 12-point drop under Cawley, while in Philadelphia, Corbett got 1 percent more than his lieutenant.

Whether the gap is mere coincidence or the result of Penn State supporters’ protest might be seen in November’s general election.

In other news:

– In a House vote Thursday that could help end the National Security Agency’s bulk phone data collection program, 303 representatives voted to stop the NSA’s controversial domestic spying while 121 stood opposed. Among those who voted to end the program were Shuster and Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson, R-5th District.

Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-12th District, voted “nay” on the bill.

– Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., was among 50 senators to sign a letter urging the NFL to ensure the Washington Redskins change their name, one they say is associated with “racism and bigotry.”

“The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur,” the senators wrote.