Schmitt beats Bream in 79th District race

Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski Lou Schmitt (right) candidate for 79th District Representative is congratulated by Dave Graham of Hollidaysburg at the Unter Uns Society in Altoona on Tuesday evening.

It was first things first for Lou Schmitt after his victory Tuesday in the Republican primary for the state House 79th District against Sharon Bream — a victory that virtually assures Schmitt of a place in the General Assembly next year, as the Democratic ballot was empty.

A reporter with a notebook at the ready was trailing Schmitt, but despite being a first-time politician, Schmitt didn’t let his attention stray from his people, as he moved through the room at the Unter Uns methodically to speak to them one-by-one, hugging, shaking hands, smiling, getting pictures taken, making wisecracks.

“This is my Mount Carmel connection here,” he said at one table.

At another, he kidded an older man about his paper calendar versus “this new thing” — a smartphone held by a young man nearby.

“These are all the people who contributed,” Schmitt told the reporter, when he finished with the goodbyes. “None of this would have been possible without their support.”

Schmitt won a decisive victory, with two-thirds of the vote, receiving a total of 3,751 to Bream’s 1,869, according to unofficial totals posted by Blair County elections officials.

It was a margin he held throughout the evening, and it induced Schmitt to give a victory speech with only 50 percent of returns counted, after getting a text about the count at that point from campaign chairman and cousin Matt Pacifico, the mayor of Altoona.

It could have been like “Dewey defeats Truman,” Schmitt said, citing a famous — and inaccurate — headline in a Chicago newspaper the day after the 1948 presidential election.

Schmitt attributed his victory to a positive message.

The point was to encourage, to unify, he said.

Pacifico attributed the win to Schmitt’s personal attributes.

“He’s tall,” Pacifico said of his cousin, who stands 6-foot-9 and is a former area basketball standout.

He’s also “a fun guy,” who makes people laugh, Pacifico added.

And he built an excellent support system, Pacifico said.

When Schmitt showed up at the Unter Uns to give his victory speech, the place was full of red-shirted supporters.

The tone of Bream’s much smaller gathering at the Bavarian Aid Society was subdued, even before the results became clear.

Nevertheless, even after she had lost, Bream hardly appeared devastated, as she danced a little jig on the way back from a radio interview.

“Someone was going to lose,” she said. “I’m glad it’s over.”

She was looking forward to the weekend and going away to “someplace fun,” she said.

She doesn’t regret the effort, she said.

“But I won’t do it again,” she stated.

The loss means she’ll keep her seat on the Altoona Area School Board for the remainder of her term, which runs for another year after this one.

She hasn’t decided yet whether to run for the school board again.

She’s too tired from the House campaign to think about it, she said.

“But probably,” she said.

Bream ran as “the taxpayer’s friend,” said Christopher Forshey, her team’s executive director.

She was counting on frustration about rising school taxes, dissatisfaction about the county’s recent reassessment and rising rates at the Altoona Water Authority, Forshey said.

She would have been an excellent representative, because she wouldn’t have been blindly compliant to House leadership, like so many representatives, and she would have been tenacious, like she was on the school board in opposing its expensive new high school construction project, said John McGinnis, the incumbent and Bream’s campaign manager.

But Schmitt will make a fine representative himself, said McGinnis, after he’d come to the Unter Uns to congratulate the winner.

Schmitt is widely knowledgeable — “history, geography, politics, the whole gamut,” McGinnis said.

And at 56, Schmitt is at an ideal age — with plenty of experience, but “not an old geezer like me,” said McGinnis, 64, who retired after three terms, having reached a self-imposed limit he’d set before taking office.

Either way, the 79th on Tuesday was bound to get a representative “upgrade,” McGinnis said, self-deprecatingly.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.