Races of the Week

Rothfus v. Altmire
Pennsylvania 4th District

The story of how Keith Rothfus decided to run for Congress and went on to win the Republican nomination in Pennsylvania’s 4th District is typical of 2010.

Until this year, the commercial transaction lawyer had confined his political activity to voting and writing checks to fellow conservatives such as Rep. Melissa Hart (R.-Pa.). 
“But then I thought of my six children,” Rothfus recalls. “With all the stimulus packages and bailouts that are becoming law, I wondered about just what kind of a country they were going to inherit.” 

So Rothfus became a citizen politician. The GOP establishment in the 4th District (Aliquippa-Beaver Falls) had already given its blessing to a former U.S. attorney. This didn’t stop Rothfus, who campaigned on a platform of “cutting spending wherever you can. We’ve got to stop using our kids as an ATM machine.”

“History shows that whenever you cut capital gains taxes, revenue goes up,” he said. “We have the second-highest corporate tax in the world so we’re in line for another cut—a big one. And while we’re at it, we need to repeal healthcare and start over again. That bill Congress passed costs too much and gives Washington too much control.” 

Voters responded positively to the straight-talking political newcomer. Rothfus won the nomination by a 2-to-1 margin and now faces Democratic Rep. Jason Altmire.

As to the two votes against the healthcare measure cast by Altmire (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 24%), the conservative hopeful scoffs. As he puts it, “Nancy Pelosi didn’t need his vote. And it isn’t leadership to sit on a fence for two days before the vote keeping constituents wondering. You don’t lead by sitting on your hands.” 

Rothfus lashes out at Altmire for voting twice for Obama budgets and “supporting the Energy Security Act, which will phase out the incandescent light bulb by 2014.”
Coupled with his strong pro-life stand, Keith Rothfus’s message of lower taxes and greater opportunity is resonating throughout the 4th district. With help from his fellow conservatives, this citizen-politician can become a citizen-legislator.

Labrador v. Minnick
Idaho’s 1st District

At first glance, Raul Labrador appears an unlikely choice as the Republican nominee for Congress in Idaho’s 1st District (Boise).

In part because he is a Mormon, and it is the Gem State’s 2nd District that has a large number of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Or maybe it’s because there is still a touch in Labrador’s voice of his native Puerto Rico, which he left to come to the United States at 13. 

Or maybe it’s just that memorable name. 

“But all of those things are related to who I am and what I believe,” says the 42-year-old Labrador, who won the GOP nod to oppose Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick. “When we came to the U.S., my mother needed money, would not take government relief, and turned to the Mormons for help. I would do chores for the church on weekends in return for that help and that is why we joined the church: They believe in private assistance and no help from the government.”

After graduation from Brigham Young University and the University of Washington Law School, Labrador went into private practice and Republican politics. After working in different GOP positions in his legislative district, Labrador served two terms in the state House of Representatives. There, the young conservative threw himself into some high-profile fights, ranging from trying to restrict the state’s primaries to only party members to fighting a gas-tax increase.

As for Minnick, the freshman Democrat is frequently called a “centrist” or “Blue Dog” because he voted twice against the huge Obama-backed healthcare scheme.  Labrador scoffs at that. As he says of Minnick, “When you have a lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union of 47%, vote to end the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy in the armed forces, and liken the issue of illegal immigration to speeding in a school zone, you aren’t voting Idaho opinions.”

As a Spanish-speaking lawyer who has represented immigrants, Labrador is asked increasingly about illegal immigration and the new Arizona law to deal with it. 

“I support the law—it’s great,” he says. “And more states will pass laws like it until Congress faces this issue. If we use troops to secure the border, develop a guest-worker program that works as well as the bracero program after World War II, and actually have Ellis Island centers in border states, where people are processed in a line when they want to become legal residents, then we won’t have states taking the lead. This is something I want to work on in Congress.” 

And as much as issues, questions about Labrador’s rather unusual name and background come up as he campaigns in Idaho. 

“Well, my mother always told me I was unique,” he says with a laugh. “I hope the voters think so as well. These are uncertain times and we need leaders who are unique.”

van Haaften v. Ellsworth
Indiana’s 8th District

If you weren’t paying attention on President’s Day, February 15, you might have missed how Trent van Haaften became the Democratic nominee for Congress in Indiana’s 8th District.

That was the day that two-term Sen. Evan Bayh (D.-Ind.) left fellow Democrats flabbergasted and many political reporters enraged because he interrupted their day off by announcing he wouldn’t seek re-election. To further complicate the situation, Bayh’s announcement came on the same day as the filing deadline in Indiana for the May primary. Within a matter of hours, Democratic leaders settled on Rep. Brad Ellsworth as their last-minute substitute for the Senate nomination. 

Ellsworth would thus forgo his plans to run for re-election in the 8th District and instead be nominated for the Senate at a meeting of Hoosier Democratic leaders in May. As for his House seat, State Rep. van Haaften filed for Congress, the lateness of his move foreclosing any chance for a competitive primary in the 8th District.

“And that’s the kind of situation Democrats back home love,” said Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels. “A few bosses get to pick the nominees from senator to dogcatcher, without having to deal with those pesky competitive primaries.”

In contrast, seven Republicans competed in the primary to run for the Ellsworth seat.

Topping the field with 33% of the vote was Dr. Larry Bucshon, Newburgh cardio-thorasic surgeon and staunch conservative. 

After spending his adult life in medicine, the 48-year-old Bucshon decided to run for Congress last year for three reasons. 

“Out of control spending and the increasingly involuntary nature of what we have to do in our daily lives bothered me,” he recalls. “But most importantly, I was mad about the administration’s healthcare plan. It got government involved in enough aspects of our everyday lives to make me decide to do something.”

Dr. Bucshon’s idea about how “to do something” about this in Congress is a simple one. As he says, “I would fight to repeal the present bill and then craft a measure with three private-sector related ingredients: tort reform, insurance reform permitting the purchase of insurance across state lines and expansion of health savings accounts.”

As for Democrat van Haaften, Bucshon is not sure where he stands on healthcare but points out that “my opponent fought Gov. Daniels over giving Hoosiers property tax relief and was against right-to-life proposals in the legislature. I have a pretty good idea how he would have voted in Congress on healthcare.”

Larry Bucshon’s good nature and plain-spoken solutions to problems reflect a lifetime of dealing with people and serious health problems. Twelve physicians now sit in the U.S. House and with enough assistance, Bucshon can be another “doctor in the House”—and one with a prescription that will help cure what ails America.