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GOP targets Beaver County

| Monday, Oct. 7, 2013, 12:06 a.m.

A lot can change in seven years.

Republican candidates once considered Beaver County, like most counties in Western Pennsylvania, impenetrable. But a combination of a sensational corruption scandal and a national Democratic Party shifting toward more progressive ideals has opened voters' minds.

“The Mike Veon fiasco and a succession of Democratic presidential candidates who seemed out of sync with local voters values has made Republicans more appealing to the traditional Democrats in this area,” said Mike Mikus, a Democratic strategist who worked for two former congressmen who represented the area, Jason Altmire and Mark Critz.

Veon, once the No. 2 Democrat in the state House, lost his seat in 2006 and four years later was convicted of using taxpayer-paid bonuses to reward state workers for campaigning. He is serving a six- to 14-year prison sentence.

That rattled the brand of trust with locals, Mikus said.

“Add to that a shift left in the past presidential elections since Al Gore in 2000, and each cycle you can see voters moving away on the presidential level,” he said.

The trend in Western Pennsylvania toward Republicans began in 2000 in Westmoreland County, when President Bush beat Gore.

By 2004, other reliably Democrat counties of Greene, Cambria and Washington went Republican. Democrat John Kerry squeaked by with a 51-48 margin in Beaver in 2004, but President Obama lost the county in 2008 and 2012.

Megan Carpenter, who chairs the county's Republican Party, would love to capitalize on that and persuade people voting Republican to register as a party member.

The GOP is hosting a “Good Government” rally from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday at the Gazebo in Beaver. Elected officials will mingle with taxpayers over food and entertainment.

“We have had success with wins in the county on the presidential level ... and down-ballot, too, in the congressional and state chamber seats,” said Carpenter, 52, but she knows that many legacy Democrats want to keep their registration because of Pennsylvania's closed primary rules.

“They would not be able to vote for city councils or school boards or in mayor's races, because the majority of those elections are won or lost in the primary,” she said.

Few Republicans run, knowing lopsided registration works against them. County records show 35,422 registered Republicans and 62,043 registered Democrats.

Among the GOP elected officials scheduled to attend the rally are Rep. Keith Rothfus of Sewickley, state Sen. Elder Vogel Jr. of Rochester, state Reps. Jim Marshall of Beaver Falls and Jim Christiana of Beaver and County Commissioner Dennis Nichols.

“We want all of the residents of the county to attend,” said Carpenter, who encourages Democrats to come to GOP committee meetings.

Salena Zito is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at szito@tribweb.com.

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