Tea party conservative runs as Democrat to challenge Pennsylvania congressman

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CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Voters in Pennsylvania’s 9th congressional district have a very unusual decision to make when they step into the booth on Tuesday.

The options before them will be longtime incumbent Republican Bill Shuster or Democrat Art Halvorson, who is really a Tea Party conservative.

Confused?

We were, too, so we went looking for answers in Franklin County, one of the largest counties in the district.

Halvorson was quite comfortable sipping coffee on the square in Chambersburg. It’s others who are feeling uncomfortable about his candidacy.

“The level of misconduct in Washington is criminal, in my view,” Halvorson said.

For 44 years, Franklin County’s been represented in Congress by Shusters; first Bud and now his son Bill. Halvorson wants to end that dynasty.

Halvorson calls himself the true Christian conservative in the race. He’s pro-gun and anti-abortion, and curiously he will appear on the ballot as a Democrat.

“I have called the Democratic party the godless party,” Halvorson said quite seriously. “If you look at their platform and how they booed God in their own conventions.”

Halvorson insists that if elected, he would caucus with the Republicans.

“I’m not a Democrat,” Halvorson said forcefully. “I’m never Hillary.”

He’s also not the official GOP candidate. Shuster beat him in the primary by one percent, 50.5-49.5. Halvorson, however, got a thousand Democrats to write his name in, securing his position on the Nov. 8 ballot.

It is causing consternation among Republicans in the 9th.

“I think the days of party loyalty are over,” said Greg Scandlen, a former party loyalist.

Scandlen was a Franklin County GOP Committee member who had to resign his party position because he went to work for Halvorson, who is not the party’s nominee.

“A lot of committee members are voting for Art, even if they’re not actively or publicly campaigning for him,” Scandlen said.

Shuster said he’s campaigning hard and takes every challenger seriously but calls Halvorson divisive.

“He’s splitting the party up for his own self-interests,” Shuster said. “He doesn’t care about the party. We’re trying to bring the party together. Donald Trump’s endorsed me. I’ve endorsed Donald Trump.”

Shuster repeatedly dismissed Halvorson as unqualified at a recent debate, saying Halvorson didn’t have a clue or was confused about important issues.

But Halvorson is not confused about his strategy. He has painted himself as the Trump-like outsider trying to clean up Washington. He’s also not so confused that he missed the Shuster scandal that unfolded last year. The chairman of the Transportation Committee was romantically linked to an airline lobbyist in an expose by Politico.

“He’s literally sleeping with a lobbyist,” Halvorson said with disdain. “It used to be a euphemism. Now, it’s real. It’s an affront to the American public.”

So, the question come Tuesday is this: will rock-ribbed Republicans support a candidate listed as a Democrat who already lost a primary fair and square?

Franklin County state Senator Rich Alloway says no way.

“There’s been a handful of people who’ve walked away from the party. That’s fine. That’s their right,” Alloway said. “But to say there’s some mass exodus going for Art Halvorson, that’s not gonna happen. Bill  Shuster is a good person. He’s done good work for us and I continue to support him.”

Shuster says he’s the chairman of a powerful committee which is beneficial to the people of his district. He rejects the notion of a Republican civil war.

“The people that have left the party are people that actually work for him (Halvorson) or are longtime supporters. Overwhelmingly, the party is supportive of me,” he said.

Candidates are free to say whatever they want. It’s the voters that will actually decide the argument come Tuesday.

“He’s not popular,” Halvorson said of Shuster. “People want him out and we got a second bite at the apple this time. I’m confident we’re gonna win.”

The Democrats in the district are not supporting Halvorson. They are encouraging the write-in candidacy of Adam Sedlock, who did not declare soon enough to get on the ballot as the Democratic candidate.

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