BEDFORD - It's not every day that a high-ranking congressman stumps for a small county's register-recorder candidate. And it's not every day that his political action committee would donate $5,000 to the county hopeful's campaign.
But in Bedford County, Republican officials have set their sights on the office - one of a small handful held by Democrats. And they're waging an active campaign to ensure 20-year veteran Faith Zembower is replaced by Barry Dallara, a retired Army Reserve officer and former school administrator.
The race for the county row office has drawn attention from U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th, who urged fellow Republicans at a party meeting to turn out Nov. 5 for Dallara.
"This isn't something you can walk in on - it requires training," said Zembower, who has won five elections, almost all of them competitive. "If you were hiring someone for this job. ... That's what it comes down to."
Generally, register of deeds and recorder of wills isn't a particularly political job. The register-recorder - who makes just more than $50,000 annually in Bedford County, according to audit reports - heads a department responsible for filing land and estate documents.
Last year, the office handled 260 new estates, 1,498 deeds and 2,129 mortgages, according to the county website. The office maintains land records dating back to 1771, before America's independence.
For Republicans, the office represents one of the few positions outside party control in the conservative county.
Dallara has jumped in, addressing party gatherings, preparing yard signs and scheduling public meet-and-greet sessions at a downtown Bedford coffee shop. In an interview Thursday, Dallara, a one-time commissioner candidate, touted his school management experience and colonel's commission in the Army Reserve.
Both candidates have cited technology in their campaigns, with Zembower describing newly established electronic records and Dallara saying he'll put more deed information online.
The race hasn't been all positive, however: At an Oct. 4 party dinner, Dallara seemed to take a swipe at Zembower, who has been involved in courthouse disputes.
"I think we deserve a person who's going to work as a team member, instead of undermining other personnel and officers of the courthouse by spreading selective information to others that really ends up benefiting them for personal gain," he said.
At the party gathering, officials said it was "long past due" that Republicans take the register-recorder's office.
The party has to "make sure you can take the courthouse," Shuster said in a video message played at
"It's really important to Barry that you get out there and vote," he said from Washington, D.C., in the midst of the federal government shutdown.
In September, Shuster's leadership political action committee, Bill PAC, donated $5,000 to Friends to Elect Barry Dallara, according to federal filings. Dallara said he's used the funds in part to buy ad space in local newspapers. Shuster's only comparable local donation in recent years, according to filing records, was $3,000 this summer to judge candidate Wade Kagarise.
Zembower said she has gathered a group of supporters and plans to attend as many public events as she can before the Nov. 5 election. Turnout is usually low in off-year elections, and Zembower said she relies on Republican supporters to vote against the party line for her seat.
"I'm a conservative Democrat. But I don't push people," she said.
That hasn't kept the campaign from taking on broader political undertones.
"If I'm elected to this position, I'm not going to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples," Dallara said to applause at the Oct. 4 dinner, in a reference to some Pennsylvania county officials who have ignored state law and allowed gay couples to marry.
Fellow Republicans cheered, but none noted a key ommission: The register-recorder doesn't issue marriage licenses to any couple, same-sex or otherwise. That's the prothonotary's job.
On Thursday, Dallara said he's well aware marriages would fall outside his responsibility.
"If it was to change, I would want to put my position on record because I've had people ask me," he said. "I
wouldn't make my own rules."