By Jim EllisMarch 5, 2019 — On Saturday, during a seven-hour marathon special district convention marked with controversy, the central Pennsylvania Republican delegates chose state Rep. Fred Keller (R-Mifflinburg) as the party nominee for 12th District Congressman Tom Marino’s (R-Williamsport) vacated seat. Marino resigned from the House at the end of January due to professional and health reasons.
Gov. Tom Wolf (D) scheduled the replacement special election for May 21. Under Pennsylvania election law, the various political parties call a district convention or meeting for purposes of choosing a special election nominee. Originally, 24 potential Republican candidates expressed interest in running, but only 14 were successful in having their names placed into nomination before the 200-plus assembled delegates.
After Rep. Marino’s unexpected announcement, Democrats responded quickly and re-nominated their 2018 candidate, local college professor Marc Friedenberg, who advances into the special general election hoping to perform better than he did against Marino. In November, Friedenberg lost 66-34 percent while spending just over $90,000 on his federal campaign.
Saturday’s convention became controversial once the Club for Growth organization began sending mailers to the delegates attacking state Rep. Jeff Wheeland (R-Williamsport), over his record on tax issues as a legislator first elected in 2014. Prior to gathering in Williamsport, Wheeland appeared as the candidate most likely to become the delegates’ choice.
But, the convention was rocked when the representative’s stepson distributed a letter detailing how Wheeland abused he and his mother. The combination attack was enough to drive Wheeland from the race just before the fourth ballot, yielding the victory for Keller.