Tea Party conservative to run as Democrat against Shuster

The conservative tea party challenger who was narrowly beaten in the Republican primary by U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster says he will run against the eight-term incumbent -- as a Democrat.

Art Halvorson, a retired Coast Guard captain from Bedford County, received more than the 1,000 write-in votes in the Democratic primary.

The largely rural, west-central Pennsylvania district hasn't elected a Democrat since 1933. It includes Bedford, Blair, Fayette, Franklin, Fulton and Indiana counties, and parts of Cambria, Greene, Huntingdon, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

But Halvorson believes the district's political flavor and divisiveness in both parties could help him win in November.

"A lot of Democrats switched parties in the primary to vote for me," Halvorson told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Tuesday. "What's unique about this district is the number of Reagan Democrats."

Halvorson has called Shuster too moderate, and the challenger touts himself as a tea party-backed conservative Christian. Shuster is the House Transportation Committee chairman and is Pennsylvania's highest-ranked member of Congress. He beat Halvorson in the 2014 Republican primary, but his second victory over Halvorson in April was slim: 49,393 votes to 48,166.

Halvorson is "betraying Democrats by calling their party Godless while forcing them to accept him as their nominee, but he is also betraying the will of the Republican primary voters that have twice rejected his attempt to get a job in Congress," Shuster said in a statement.

Megan Sweeney, spokeswoman for the state Republican Party, said the organization remains "firmly behind" Shuster.

Joseph DiSarro, who chairs the political science department at Washington & Jefferson College in the district, said Shuster stood to hold onto the seat he won in a special 2001 election after the retirement of his father, Rep. E. G. "Bud" Shuster.

"But given all the political turbulence that is going on within the Republican Party, with Republican turning against Republican and turmoil at the top of the ticket in the presidential race, this is not a normal election," DiSarro said.

Halvorson agreed.

"Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump are holding fast to the long-standing orthodoxy of their respective parties," Halvorson wrote on his website. "Today's political divide is more about the conflict between an arrogant ruling elite in both parties against the interests of the vast majority of the population who simply want to live their lives, raise their families and contribute to their communities without being bossed around by Washington's power brokers."