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Shuster hints at run for re-election

The 2018 electoral landscape is taking shape after Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th District, suggested he plans to seek re-election next November.

Shuster told reporters in recent weeks that it’s his “intention” to run again, largely putting to bed lingering rumors that he would step down or seek another job in politics. Now, potential challengers for 2018 and even 2020 are testing the waters.

“My intention is to stick around. I’ve got some other opportunities,” Shuster told Washington news outlet The Hill in early November.

Political figures locally and nationally had wondered whether Shuster might not seek re-election, with his term as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Comm­ittee set to expire after next year. Several GOP committee chairmen have announced their plans to leave office, furthering the speculation.

A Shuster spokesman did not return a message seeking more information.

Shuster’s comments on re-election could change the calculus for some, especially fellow Republicans who might have considered seeking his open seat. Now the question becomes: Will anyone challenge him in the spring primary?

Manns Choice businessman Art Halvorson — who challenged Shuster twice as a Republican and once as a Democrat after a surprise primary write-in — said he is seriously considering his options and will likely decide in the coming weeks.

“I’ve been trying to discern what I need to do and also if anyone else is planning on doing anything,” Halvorson said. “People are talking to me, but they’re not mentioning anything (about other candidates).”

Halvorson said that if he decides not to run, he would consider supporting a Shuster challenger.

His goal remains to remove the veteran congressman from office, he said.

Other figures have remained quiet on the issue. State Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, who clashed with Shuster during the 2001 fight for the then-open House seat, is up for re-election next year, as well.

On Friday, Eichelberger said he has not yet made a firm decision on running for his own seat or seeking a higher position.

“Some people have said they’d like me to run for Congress,” he said. “Believe me, I get asked daily. I tell them the same thing: I don’t know.”

Shuster continued raising campaign money into the fall, with $328,000 raised between July 1 and Sept. 30, according to federal campaign finance filings.

Shuster had well over $900,000 to spend as of Sept. 30, much of it donated by political action committees from the transportation and defense industries.

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Shuster could be on track to take another key congressional role if he remains in office long enough. Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, could have another full two-year term after next year, but must then step down under the same rule set to push Shuster from transportation.

“Mac Thornberry has another term, but I’m on the top prong there, and I’ve demonstrated that I can get things done,” Shuster told The Hill.

If Shuster does indeed seek the Armed Services Committee gavel, it could mean multiple additional terms in Washington.

All of that would depend on the House remaining in Republican hands after 2018.

Democrats’ hopes of taking several seats — including in Pennsylvania, where GOP retirements in “purple” districts could give the Democrats a boost — have risen.

In Shuster’s district, Fayette County psychologist Adam Sedlock — who challenged Shuster as a Democratic write-in in 2016 after conservative Halvorson edged him out for the party’s nomination — has maintained a campaign presence online. A Democratic victory would be difficult in conservative central Pennsylvania, even if the party manages to sweep into national power in 2018.

For now, the greater threat to some Republican members of Congress comes from the right-wing faction commonly associated with President Donald Trump and his former adviser, Steve Bannon.

Bannon and his allies have vowed to back “nationalist” candidates in 2018 to unseat establishment Republicans they see as insufficiently loyal to the president.

No such 2018 challengers have emerged against Shuster, who is close to Republican leaders but who backed Trump without reservation in 2016.

At least one has emerged, curiously, for 2020.

While congressional candidates typically announce on two-year cycles, one — Ben Hornberger of Shippensburg — has said he wants to seek the seat in 2020.

A Marine veteran originally from Bellwood, Hornberger described himself as an ardent Trump supporter and has shared posts online labeling figures from both parties “globalist puppets.”

He has set up a campaign committee, according to the Federal Election Com­mission, and opened a fundraising page on the website GoFundMe.

“The Shuster family name is really well-known. I have to get my name out there earlier to offset that a little bit,” he told the Chambersburg Public Opinion.

Hornberger’s name appeared in the national news this summer after he accidentally shot and injured himself during a protest at the Gettysburg battlefield. Protesters had gathered to protect Confederate statues from purported attacks by antifascists, which never materialized.

While Hornberger remains set on 2020, it remains unclear whether any challengers will appear from the right in 2018. Halvorson said he will inform other potential challengers when he makes his own decision.

“I’ll make it very clear to anyone else that the field is open,” he said.

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