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GOP picks Elizabeth Twp. Rep. Rick Saccone to fill disgraced ex-congressman Murphy's seat

Wes Venteicher
| Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, 1:45 p.m.
Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township, attends a morning meeting at a Canonsburg golf course on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017.
Wes Venteicher | Tribune-Review
Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township, attends a morning meeting at a Canonsburg golf course on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017.
Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township
Submitted
Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township
State Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Jefferson Hills.
Submitted
State Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Jefferson Hills.
State Sen. Kim L. Ward
State Sen. Kim L. Ward

Western Pennsylvania Republicans made state Rep. Rick Saccone their nominee Saturday for a special election to replace former Congressman Tim Murphy in the 18th District.

About 200 party representatives from Alle­gheny, Washington, Westmoreland and Greene counties selected Saccone, 59, of Elizabeth Township from among three candidates at a morning meeting at a Canonsburg golf course.

The party members chose Saccone over state Sen. Guy Reschenthaler of Jefferson Hills and state Sen. Kim Ward of Hempfield. State Rep. Jason Ortitay withdrew his candidacy Saturday, and candidate George Karpacs didn't show up to the meeting.

Touting his support for President Trump, Saccone said he would get his message and agenda out to voters who are “worried about the direction our country is heading” and who are looking for “someone who will defend their values.”

Saccone said his agenda includes lowering taxes, reducing government spending and regulation, repealing and replacing Obamacare, supporting conservative Supreme Court justices, rebuilding the nation's military, protecting unborn children and reforming the VA Health Care System.

“Let's go win this seat and help President Trump implement that agenda,” he said in a speech following his selection.

Saccone will face off against a Democratic nominee in a March 13 special election to replace Murphy, who resigned last month after an extramarital scandal in which the pro-life Republican reportedly asked a mistress to have an abortion when the two thought she was pregnant.

Democrats will select a nominee Nov. 19 in Washington, Pa.

Party representatives who selected Saccone said his foreign policy experience set him apart from the other candidates, who they said all took similar stands on international relations, second amendment rights, the opioid epidemic and other issues raised during a question-and-answer period.

Saccone spent much of his career in the Air Force in South Korea, and lived for a year in North Korea representing an international organization building nuclear power plants. He has written two books on North Korea.

He received a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh after returning to the United States and teaches political science part-time at Saint Vincent College. He volunteered for an assignment with the Army when America went to war with Iraq, and served in Baghdad as a senior counterintelligence agent identifying and interrogating insurgents, according to a biography on his website.

“I think that when he goes to Washington he'll be accepted as a player, rather than the new guy, because of his experience,” said Paul Dixon, 64, a councilman from Bethel Park who said he voted for Saccone.

Danielle Ohliger, 54, of the Scott Township Republican Committee said Saccone's style of speaking impressed her.

“He's the only one who answered everything and talked authentically — no talking points, no buzzwords,” Ohlinger said.

Carolynn Thompson, 75, a Westmoreland County committeewoman who lives in Circleville, said she had supported Saccone since he announced earlier this year he would run against Scranton Democrat Bob Casey for a Senate seat. Saccone left that race to pursue the 18th District Congressional seat.

Thompson said Saccone's record of winning state elections in Democratic districts shows he is a viable candidate for the March 13 election.

Ward was eliminated in a first round of balloting, and then Saccone beat Reschenthaler in a 123 to 91 vote. Reschenthaler called for a motion for another vote so that Saccone could officially win with a unanimous vote.

Reschenthaler said he stands behind the party's vote and will support Saccone.

“At the end of the day, this is about keeping the seat Republican,” Reschenthaler said.

Ward said she supported the winning candidate, although she would prefer to see an open primary in which voters select the nominee, not the party.

She said she has no plans to run for other offices. Nor did she plan to dwell on her loss Saturday.

“I'm going to find a Megatron machine, a jukebox and a glass of wine,” she said.

Murphy's resignation has fueled hopes among Democrats that they can win the seat in the deeply Republican district of about 707,000 people. Murphy won the past eight elections in the district, which is the second-whitest in the state and has a median household income of about $64,000.

The winner will serve out the remainder of Murphy's term, which ends January 2019.

Seven Democrats have registered for the special election nomination: California University of Pennsylvania assistant professor and counselor Rueben Brock, Westmoreland County Commissioner Gina Cerilli, former Allegheny County Councilman Mike Crossey, former Veterans Affairs official Pam Iovino, former U.S. Attorney Conor Lamb, emergency physician Bob Solomon and gardener and writer Keith Seewald.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, wventeicher@tribweb.com or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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