In Pennsylvania, Bill Shuster could lose to a Tea Partier running as a Democrat

I haven’t spent too much time this cycle looking at House races, but there’s something really interesting going on in Pennsylvania’s ninth district. Bill Shuster has comfortably held that seat for the Republicans since 2001 but he’s got a serious fight on his hands now. That in and of itself wouldn’t be much of a headline were it not for the identity of his opponent. The “Democrat” he’s running against isn’t actually a Democrat at all. Art Halvorson a long time Republican and Tea Party stalwart who managed to get enough Democrats behind him to run on their ticket. And the story just gets more strange from there, as some members of the local GOP committee have resigned from their positions to support him. (The Hill)

A number of local GOP committee members in Pennsylvania have resigned from their posts so they can throw their support behind a tea party-backed challenger to Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) this fall, underscoring the party divide brewing in the 9th District.

Four members of the Franklin County Republican Committee (FCRC) announced Tuesday that they’d officially left their spots in order to openly endorse Republican Art Halvorson, who is running as a Democrat to unseat the House Transportation and Infrastructure chairman in the general election.

Darren Brown, vice chairman and mayor of Chambersburg, Pa.; Greg Scandlen, Halvorson’s communications director; and two other members — all of whom supported Halvorson in the primary — said they had to resign because committee bylaws require members to back all Republican candidates on the ballot in the general election.

But because Halvorson is now running on the Democratic ticket, supporting him would represent a conflict of interest.

Some Republican committee members in Indiana County and Blair County had also resigned so they could endorse Halvorson.

This is truly bizarre because Shuster isn’t just an established incumbent. He rose to prominence as his seniority grew and he’s now the chairman of the powerful Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Therein lies the problem. As I’ve written about here before, Shuster is the key proponent behind the highly unpopular plan to essentially privatize the FAA and remove more than 30,000 government workers from the payroll. Almost nobody seems to like this idea except the air traffic controllers union, who would gain considerably greater power over the industry if this approach is adopted.

Why does that factor in? I’m guessing that more of the voters have been made aware of the fact that while Shuster supports this overhaul of the FAA and the idea of handing it over to the unions, he’s dating Shelley Rubino, vice president for global government affairs for Airlines for America. (Yes… the group representing those unions.) Normally when we talk about politics making for strange bedfellows we’re speaking figuratively. It’s somewhat more unusual to see a Republican literally in bed with the unions. Even if there were nothing to this, the appearance of impropriety is impossible to escape.

So does Halvorson have a chance? Here’s the next strange part to the story. Art ran against Shuster in the GOP primary before jumping on the Democrats’ ticket. And when he did, the election was a nail biter, coming down to barely 1,000 votes. And that’s in a district where Shuster has massive name recognition, coming from a family which has been prominent in district politics for a very long time. (His father, Bud Schuster, represented the district before he did.) If Halvorson came that close to winning just among the GOP base, how many Democrats out there would be willing to toss him a vote in the general election just to poke a stick in the eye of the GOP even if they weren’t focused on the FAA conflict of interest story? There’s been no decent polling on this race that I could find on a quick search, but we could be in for a shock on the morning of November 9th.

Exit question: On the off chance that Art Halvorson wins, he goes to Washington as a Democrat on paper. But one assumes he would immediately announce that he would caucus with the GOP, right? (This is only in terms of counting heads for the Majority Leader.) Or would he simply renounce his status as a Democrat and switch parties on day one?