Here in Pennsylvania, we figured our state legislature had gerrymandered us out of having any interesting Congressional races until 2020. In particular, you’d expect Rep. Bill Shuster of the ninth district to be safe. He’s a Republican in the state’s most Republican district. He’s chairman of the Transportation committee, following in the footsteps of his father, who has half the highways in the area (including an Interstate highway that violates the usual numbering scheme) named after him.
Into each Congressional career, though, some scandal must fall. Since last summer, Rep. Shuster has been dating Shelley Rubino, a lobbyist for the airlines’ trade association. He insists he is going above and beyond House ethics rules in the matter, and there’s no evidence the relationship started before Rep. Shuster’s divorce last year. Still, it looks bad.
Rep. Shuster was never as safe as his committee chairmanship and name would suggest. He’s a relative moderate in a conservative district, and came into his office under unusual circumstances (his father resigned in 2001, setting up a special election, instead of retiring at the end of his term). He barely survived a primary challenge in 2004, and only got 53% of the vote against two candidates in the 2014 primary. He may be about to face his strongest opponent yet in Tom Smith, a coal company executive. Smith has name recognition (he was the nominee to challenge Sen. Bob Casey in 2012 and carried all but one of the counties in the district), the wealth to self-fund a campaign, and serves on the board of directors of the Commonwealth Foundation, one of Pennsylvania’s leading conservative think tanks.
The biggest problem for Smith is that he doesn’t live in the district- he lives in Armstrong County, just west of the district’s northwest corner. It’s unlikely either that Shuster will decline to run for re-election next year, or that he’ll avoid a challenger even if Smith doesn’t run. In what ought to be a safe district for any Republican incumbent, we might be seeing the marquee race of next year’s primary season emerge.