BEDFORD - In a vote Tuesday, Bedford County Republican officers selected minister Jesse Topper as the party's almost-certain candidate for a January state House special election.
Topper, 32, received 26 of 44 committee members' votes Tuesday, handily beating three other nominees and paving the way for his final, districtwide party nomination next week.
A longtime Republican official and executive minister at Bedford United Methodist Church, Topper was the first candidate to join the 78th District race to replace state Rep. Dick Hess, who died in September from surgical complications.
"This is the first step of the process," Topper said as supporters offered hugs and handshakes. "It will be up to me to work diligently for each and every vote."
In a speech at the Bedford Elks Lodge - one of eight Tuesday from party hopefuls - Topper said he alone has the campaign and fundraising machinery in place to take on a Democratic opponent in the Jan. 28 special election. The Democratic Party has yet to announce a candidate, with less than a month remaining to file for the ballot in the largely conservative district.
Topper pressed his conservative credentials to the audience of at least 100, including scores of nonvoting spectators.
"We need to obtain the moral high ground for our children and grandchildren," he said.
"It's a message we need to carry to Harrisburg and Washington," he said of entrepreneurship and independence from overregulation. "It's a message of freedom."
Citing his experience on Bedford Borough Council, Topper named unfunded state mandates and overreaching state authority as constant impediments to local government. He said he would return revenue to the district and back tax breaks for businesses moving to the area.
Of eight initial candidates, four received nominations putting them up for a vote. Topper's three fellow nominees - former County Commissioner Michael Herline, nurse Christine Hershberger Ebersole and business owner Samuel C. Cottle - received 18 votes total. Several candidates left open the possibility of primary runs in spring, when the 2014 election process will begin.
The official Republican candidate is set to be chosen next week at a districtwide meeting of representatives from Bedford, Fulton and Huntingdon counties. As the most populous region of the 78th District, Bedford's electors - all handpicked by Topper - are almost guaranteed to carry the vote, Bedford Republican Chairman Gilbert Verdiglione said.
Topper, who worked with Hess before the representative's unexpected death, said he would take the 26-year legislator's work to heart.
"These are not circumstances in which anyone wants to run a campaign," he said.
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.