Rothfus win boosts GOP to 13 of 18 Pa. seats in House
The first thing Republican Congressman-elect Keith Rothfus did on Wednesday was hit the snooze button on his alarm clock.
The restless night before had started with his taking refuge in a hotel room from his own Election Night party as a narrow lead blossomed into a close win over U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown, for the 12th Congressional District seat.
“I've been returning phone calls, emails and texts all morning,” Rothfus, 50, an attorney from Sewickley, told the Tribune-Review between interviews. “People call me and say, ‘Hey, congressman-elect,' and I say, ‘Please call me Keith.' ”
He chatted with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who congratulated him on winning a tough race to increase the GOP's commanding share of Pennsylvania's U.S. House seats.
The victory was one of few bright spots for Keystone State Republicans on a night when President Obama won a second term over GOP candidate Mitt Romney, and Democrats swept state row offices.
Rothfus' win and an open-seat victory by Scott Perry, R-Cumberland County, mean 13 of Pennsylvania's 18 representatives are Republicans.
Rothfus' redrawn district includes Beaver County and parts of Lawrence, Allegheny, Westmoreland Somerset and Cambria counties.
“That is an impressive majority,” said state GOP Chairman Robert Gleason.
Besides Rothfus, Western Pennsylvania will have four Republican House members with Reps. Tim Murphy of Upper St. Clair, Mike Kelly of Butler and Bill Shuster of Hollidaysburg, all of whom won decisive victories.
Other new colleagues who called Rothfus included Murphy, Shuster and Rep. Tom Marino, R-Lycoming.
Rothfus said he has two priorities once he takes office: promoting economic growth and preventing a tax increase.
“The key to addressing our debt crisis, the key to addressing Medicare and Social Security is to get people back to work so they're paying taxes. The key is not raising taxes on people who are already working and trying to give other people jobs,” Rothfus said.
During the election, he signed lobbyist Grover Norquist's “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” to oppose a tax increase. Norquist's group, Americans for Tax Reform, spent more than $2.5 million in October on mailers and TV ads either supporting Rothfus or opposing Critz, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Rothfus said he will join his Republican colleagues from Western Pennsylvania to present a unified voice on energy issues, particularly on advocating for “science-based, not agenda-based” Environmental Protection Agency regulations on the coal and natural gas industries.
“We'll be aggressive in that area,” he said.
Transportation issues, such as the viability of roads, lock and dams, are expected to receive the delegation's attention, particularly with Shuster's likely ascension to chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Kelly said Rothfus called him on the day after he lost to outgoing Rep. Jason Altmire in 2010 and said he was starting his 2012 re-election bid.
“He said, ‘I should have won. I just didn't have enough help to get there,'” Kelly said. “That guy is one tough cookie.”
Kelly said he's looking forward to working with Rothfus, a fellow Notre Dame alumnus. They want to roll back regulation of the coal and natural gas industries and restart a stagnant economy.
“We have a much stronger voice in the Republican conference because of last night,” Kelly said.
During the campaign, Rothfus relentlessly vowed to fight to repeal President Obama's health care overhaul. The day after his win, he said he wants to find ways acceptable to both parties to avoid using Medicare funding to pay for Obamacare.
“You can't continue to create programs and not fund them,” he said.
Election returns show Rothfus received 14,441 more votes in Allegheny County than he did when he narrowly lost in 2010 to Altmire. Rothfus won Westmoreland County with 57 percent of the vote. His vote totals in those two counties were more than enough to overcome Critz's 63 percent to 37 percent victory in Cambria County and narrow wins for Critz in Beaver and Lawrence counties.
For the first time since Rep. John Murtha took office in 1973, Johnstown won't have a hometown-based Democratic congressman in office. Murtha died in 2010. Critz, his former aide, replaced him.
Rothfus said he is sensitive to that.
“Every time I talk to people in Cambria and Somerset counties, I try to shift the paradigm and say, ‘Don't just think of me as being from the Pittsburgh area, and don't think of yourself as being from Johnstown and Somerset — think of both of us as being from southwestern Pennsylvania. It helps people get a little more comfortable,” he said.
Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.