State Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth), 59, will be the GOP’s nominee in the special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District. He won the nomination at a convention the Republican Party of Pennsylvania held in Canonsburg Saturday.
Murphy, a pro-life Republican, was forced to resign from Congress last month amid revelations that he asked a woman with whom he’d been having an affair to get an abortion.
Known as a fiery conservative, Saccone has served in the state legislature since 2010. He defeated state Sens. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Jefferson Hills) and Kim Ward (R- Hempfield) to secure his party’s nomination for the March 13 special election.
Among his priorities, Saccone said, he aims to reduce government regulation, spending and taxes. The pro-life candidate supports the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, increased support for the military and veterans, and stronger Second Amendment protections.
“That’s part of the agenda that people voted in [when Donald Trump was elected president],” Saccone said. “They expect me to go down [to Washington] and fight for it and defend it, and I will. I’ll stand up to whoever is against that because I know that’s what the people want.”
“I was Trump before Trump was Trump,” Saccone later quipped. “I ran on that agenda in 2010. It’s the same agenda – it’s the people’s agenda. The president just nationalized it.”
The Democratic Party was swift to respond to Saccone's nomination, criticizing the Republican for suspending his campaign for the U.S. Senate to run in the 18th District.
In a statement, Democratic spokesperson Brandon Cwalina said Saccone is "desperate to get to D.C. and implement draconian policies on behalf of President Trump, like giving tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans at the expense of teachers and first responders."
Saccone noted that, despite his conservatism, he has repeatedly been elected in a legislative district that, like the 18th Congressional District, has more registered Democrats.
Saccone served as a diplomat in North Korea from 2000 to 2001. He was the only U.S. citizen living in North Korea at the time, according to his website.
Previously, he served in the U.S. Air Force for more than a decade as a counterintelligence and special agent. After returning from North Korea, he completed his Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh and then become a professor at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe.
Saccone said he is willing to work across the aisle with Democrats.
“If I can do it in North Korea, I should be able to do it anywhere,” he added.
He also noted that, as a state representative, he has passed laws with Democratic support.
Republican party chairmen from Allegheny, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties invited a total of 215 conferees to select a special election nominee at Saturday’s convention. Two of the 215 did not attend, so two alternates filled in, a party spokesperson said.
Each county was permitted to select one conferee for every 1,000 votes it cast for Trump in the 2016 election, meaning there were 80 conferees from Westmoreland County, 79 from Allegheny, 50 from Washington and 6 from Greene.
Conferees voted in a run-off style election, where the first candidate to receive over 50 percent of the vote was named the nominee. There were two rounds of voting.
Ward was eliminated from the race after winning the fewest votes in the first round. She received 66 votes, compared to 75 for Reschenthaler and 74 for Saccone.
Because neither Reschenthaler nor Saccone won a majority in the first round, the conferees voted again. Saccone became the nominee with 123 votes. Reschenthaler won 91.
Shortly after the results were announced, Reschenthaler made a successful motion to give Saccone his votes so that the nominee would have the unanimous backing of the conferees.
Pennsylvania state Rep. Jason Ortitay (R-Bridgeville) had announced he would compete for the nomination but withdrew his name from consideration at the beginning of the convention. He told conferees that the party should unite behind a single candidate, a GOP spokesperson said.
George Karpacs’ name had been circulated as a potential contender for the nomination, but he did not attend the meeting, according to the spokesperson.
During question-and-answer sessions with the three remaining candidates, the spokesperson said, conferees focused on North Korea, opioids, the Second Amendment and raising enough money for the upcoming campaign. The meeting was closed to media.
Democrats will hold their nominating convention on Nov. 19. They announced Thursday that seven candidates filed the required petitions to compete for their party’s nomination.
The Democratic candidates include psychologist Reuben Brock, Westmoreland County Commissioner Gina Cerilli, former Allegheny County Councilmember Mike Crossey, former Department of Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary Pam Iovino, former federal prosecutor Conor Lamb, writer Keith Seewald and emergency physician Bob Solomon.