Penn State Altoona finance professor John D. McGinnis said he was ready to hug every campaign worker after hearing that he won the Republican nomination in the 79th District by beating 34-year incumbent Rick Geist.
"The Lord works in mysterious ways, and there's nothing more mysterious than John McGinnis being the Republican nominee in the 79th District," the 58-year-old first-time candidate said as he stood in the center of about 40 cheering supporters at 30 Something Restaurant and Lounge.
On a night when the early vote counts showed McGinnis with a 50-vote lead, the candidate admitted to being nervous about the outcome of his pursuit to represent the 79th District, which includes Altoona, Logan Township and the third precinct of Allegheny Township.
Mirror photo by Patrick?Waksmunski
John McGinnis (right) hugs poll worker William Dively of Hollidaysburg after hearing election results at 30 Something Restaurant and Lounge in Greenwood.
"There was a lot of work done by a lot of people, and it would be terrible if it wasn't rewarded," McGinnis said.
A half hour later, the rewards were in, with unofficial totals showing McGinnis with 2,650 votes, 196 more than Geist's 2,454 votes.
By municipality, Geist got one more vote than McGinnis in Altoona, 1,785 to 1,784. In Logan Township, McGinnis won with 841 votes to Geist's 651 votes. In Allegheny Township, McGinnis had 25 votes to Geist's 18.
|A closer look|
|Unofficial results by precinct in the 79th Legislative District as reported by the Blair County Board of Elections|
|Totals by municipality|
|Allegheny Township 3||18||25|
The unofficial vote concludes a campaign that started in January and generated back-and-forth jabs as McGinnis slammed Geist for supporting pay raises, pension increases and gas taxes. Geist fought back with advertisements showing McGinnis pictured next to illegal drugs, next to statements he has made in favor of decriminalizing drug use.
McGinnis, who promised to push for lower taxes, reduced spending and an end to lucrative pensions and per diems, told his supporters he will continue to pursue that direction for the 79th District and for the commonwealth.
"It does my heart good to know the 79th District and the citizens of the 79th District are saying 'no' to this type of nonsense," he said.
He also said later that he is not making any assumptions.
"There's another election in fall, and there's going to be more work to do," he said. "Step 1 was to retire Mr. Geist and that has been done."
In the fall, McGinnis may or may not have a Democratic opponent on the ballot.
Geist and Democrat Richard Flarend both pursued write-in votes during Tuesday's election, but the success of that campaign will rest with the Blair County Elections Board.
Director of Elections Ingrid Healy-Tucker said Tuesday night that the elections board will begin Friday to review the results and tally the write-in votes, in addition to absentee votes.
Altoona Area school board members Sharon Bream and Cheryl Rupp said they'll be supporting McGinnis in the fall, just as they did through the primary.
"You know, I thought he was going to win, but I didn't want to say that for fear I would jinx him," Rupp said.
Bream said the campaign committee included about 100 workers, including those who made phone calls and went door-to-door."
"Everybody really dug in," she said.
McGinnis said he knocked on 1,200 doors since his announcement in January and made more than 400 phone calls seeking support. He also had the support of WRTA-AM owner Dave Barger, an outspoken critic of Geist. McGinnis used to host an afternoon talk show on the station.
"In some ways, it was Barger who inspired me to run," McGinnis said.
Altoona Councilman and longtime Republican leader Bruce Kelley, while watching the vote count at the highway yard, said he wasn't surprised by the close race considering the money spent on advertising.
The McGinnis campaign had financial help from the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, a Harrisburg-area political action committee that supported select candidates seeking legislative seats.
"At least it gave me a chance," McGinnis said.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray contributed to this story. Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.