IMAGE: Crowded Pennsylvania GOP race
John Beale  /  AP
Seven of the nine candidates on the Republican ticket in the 5th Congressional district answer questions during a candidates forum in State College, Pa.
updated 4/17/2008 8:10:33 AM ET 2008-04-17T12:10:33

A mayor, a real estate developer and a funeral home director are running to fill a congressional seat being vacated by retiring GOP Rep. John Peterson.

So are six other Republicans. But wait, there are more - 12 candidates all told - in a crowded field that is making it tough for candidates to stand out in the sprawling north-central Pennsylvania district.

"Even seven is too many, although it's nice to have all those choices in a way," retiree Mary Eagleton said after a recent League of Women Voters forum for GOP candidates in which seven contenders showed up.

They're all vying to replace Peterson, who announced in January that he was retiring after completing six terms serving the mostly rural, Republican-leaning district. The problem is the candidates in the April 22 primary, especially the Republicans, can have trouble getting heard.

In State College, the GOP field sat nearly elbow to elbow in the borough council chambers, limited to roughly two-minute answers during a more than hour-long session with little debate.

Difficult for candidates to stand out
"There are so many candidates, it's a bit challenging to make sure everybody has enough time," Janice Horn, president of the Clarion County League of Women Voters, said about preparing for a recent candidates forum there.

The number of candidates could give a boost to those who can afford television and direct mail advertising.

Three candidates stood out in April 2 campaign finance reports posted on the Federal Election Commission's Web site: State College real estate executive Matt Shaner lent his campaign $1.2 million of his own money, Clearfield financial planner Derek Walker lent his campaign $265,000, and Lycoming County businessman Jeff Stroehmann lent himself $150,000.

The three, particularly Shaner, have had the most ads in the State College area. But the district isn't dominated by one TV market, with stations from Erie, Pittsburgh and Buffalo, N.Y., available in the west, and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre stations available in the east. That can make advertising costly, said Barry Sweet, a Clarion University political scientist.

Another GOP candidate from Centre County, Glenn "G.T." Thompson, hopes his endorsement Friday by Peterson gives him an edge.

Will endorsements help in crowded race?
It was somewhat of a surprise given that Peterson hails from the western edge of the district in Titusville, hours away from Centre County, where Thompson is the GOP chairman. Sweet suggested that Peterson's backing could give Thompson more notice in the western areas of the district.

  1. Other political news of note
    1. Animated Boehner: 'There's nothing complex about the Keystone Pipeline!'

      House Speaker John Boehner became animated Tuesday over the proposed Keystone Pipeline, castigating the Obama administration for not having approved the project yet.

    2. Budget deficits shrinking but set to grow after 2015
    3. Senate readies another volley on unemployment aid
    4. Obama faces Syria standstill
    5. Fluke files to run in California

Thompson's FEC filing wasn't available online, though the Centre Daily Times reported that Thompson raised about $8,500 from contributors and lent himself $1,100.

"With Peterson, given how crowded it is, any sort of extra margin of interest you can get will make a difference," Sweet said of the endorsement. "It's certainly not going to hurt him."

Robert Speel, a political scientist at Penn State University's Behrend campus in Erie, said an endorsement generally can make a difference in a crowded field.

"A lot of times, however, voters are looking for a change in a district's representation," he said. "If the incumbent has been around a while, such an endorsement may not have a lot of impact."

The other GOP candidates are Clarion Mayor John Stroup, Clarion minister Keith Richardson, former Centre County commissioner Chris Exarchos, Elk County coroner and funeral home director Lou Radkowski, and Clinton County businessman John Krupa.

The geographic diversity of the field could lead to such a split vote that "you could win the nomination with 10, 12 or 15 percent of the vote," said Terry Madonna, a pollster at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.

The Democratic field has three candidates: former journalist and Centre County resident Bill Cahir, Clearfield County Commissioner Mark McCracken, and Lock Haven Mayor Rick Vilello, who has been endorsed by Gov. Ed Rendell.

Peterson won re-election with 60 percent of the vote in 2006, when Democrats took control of the House. He won with 88 percent two years earlier.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments