A longtime Republican Party officer and member of the Ward trucking family said she plans to run for state Rep. Jerry Stern's seat, making her the first candidate to be publicly named as the veteran legislator prepares to step down.
Judy Ward, 54, of Frankstown Township said she hopes to officially announce her candidacy soon after New Year's. The Republican state committee member said she's spent the last few days discussing a run with fellow residents of the 80th District, which Stern, R-Martinsburg, has represented for 20 years.
"I'm calling people in the area, committee people, just asking them for their support," she said. "I've been hitting it hard."
Stern announced in early November that he won't run for another term next year, citing health concerns and a changing political climate in Harrisburg.
While Blair County Republican Chairman A.C. Stickel said other possible replacements have approached him, Ward is the only candidate so far to confirm her plans publicly.
She has worked for eight years as a Republican State Committee member, fending off a strong challenge in the 2010 primary.
Ward spent more than 20 years as a nurse, and in 2010 took up a job developing employee health programs at Ward Transport & Logistics Corp., which her husband, Bill, heads as chairman.
"I understand transportation issues. I understand business issues ... I feel like I have a broad base of experience," she said.
Ward said she decided to run as she considered the qualifications Stern's replacement would need.
"As I thought about who would be a person to replace him - and those are big shoes to fill - I thought they would need to know this and that, transportation and health care," she said.
She said she has worked to polish her legislative skills, taking a Penn State University public leadership program and studying the challenges faced by Republican women running for office.
"I know some of the pitfalls," she said.
While Stickel noted that the county party does not endorse primary candidates, he said Ward's broad appeal and countywide campaign experience would serve her well.
"She's got a lot of friends, a lot of friends in the state party, in the business community," he said. "She's a likable person and well-versed on the issues."
Other "very attractive candidates" have expressed an interest, Stickel said, but none are yet certain enough to go public.
Candidacy petitions open Feb. 18, and nomination papers can be filed March 12. Candidates must register by April 21 for the May 20 primary.
"You've really got to have an organization in place" by February, Stickel said.
County Democrats are considering candidates for next year, as well, Party Chairman Frank Rosenhoover said Friday. Rosenhoover acknowledged that Democrats face a challenge in the conservative district, which in 2015 will cover nearly all of Blair County outside Altoona and Logan Township.
"We certainly are hopeful to find a candidate," he said. "We truly believe that every race ought to have two candidates."