By Patty Yauger, Herald Standard – Uniontown, PA
In less that four weeks, voters will go to the polls to make their choices as to who will serve in the White House, Congress and several state positions.
Republicans and Democrats alike have ramped up their campaigns at every level. While it is typical to see a yard sign with a local candidate emblazoned across it along the roadside or on a billboard, this year candidates are also opening local offices in Fayette County to spur voter support.
Geoffrey V. Skelley, media relations coordinator and associate editor of Saboto’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia, Center for Politics, ties the efforts to the close race between Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.
“A number of outlets have reviewed the field office counts for Clinton and Trump in key states such as Pennsylvania,” he said. “In most places, Clinton has a notable advantage, but the two campaign are about equal in the Keystone State.
“Fayette County is by no means one of the biggest counties in the state, but it’s not small either. In 2012, there were 48,649 votes there, which was about 13,000 more votes than the median county in Pennsylvania that cycle.
“The Clinton campaign has more money and has shown more commitment to field operations nationally, so it’s not surprising they’re investing anywhere they can. While Trump is likely to win Fayette, margins matter so both sides will try to limit the advantage the other side can gain in different places. It’s not Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, but every vote counts the same.”
The Hillary Clinton campaign recently opened an office at a building located at the intersection of M Vernon Avenue and Berkeley Street in Uniontown.
When the call came to help staff the office, Julia Anderson, and Mary Zsiros, both of Uniontown, were ready to sign on to help the Democratic presidential candidate.
Zsiros said a telephone call to the business plaza owner garnered the local Democrats an ideal location for an office.
“There are a lot of people pitching in to make telephone calls, do some canvassing and staff the office,” said Anderson.
On Sunday, the volunteers gathered at the office to watch the televised debate between Clinton an the GOP nominee, Donald Trump.
“It had its highs and lows,” said Anderson, of the debate held at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. “We’re all hoping the outcome is what we want.”
The office is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Sunday from noon to 7 p.m.
Jim Davis, Fayette County Democratic Committee chairman, speculates that the office is a sign that Democratic voters are vital in the Nov. 8 election.
“It has been an area that has done well for the Democrats historically,” he said. “I see (the establishment of the office) as an effort by the Democratic Party and those on behalf of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, to let Fayette County and western Pennsylvanian’s know she cares about this area.
“That she isn’t going to abandon this area.”
The area is garnering more interest by both parties because the number gap between the two are narrowing, said David Show, chairman of the Fayette County Republican Committee.
“As the registration gap continues to close in the county and more voters realize their values align with the Republican Party, our votes have a greater importance,” he said. “We will continue to see more attention being paid to Fayette County as we are no longer written off as a democratic county
While Trump has not opened an office, the old Central Elementary School campaign office of U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Everett, is touting the GOP nominee’s campaign with various signs in the window of the Church Street building.
Shuster is seeking his ninth term in office and leased the space in January. Shuster has won Trump’s endorsement in his 9th Congressional race against Republican Art Halvorson of Manns Choice, who will appear on the Democratic ballot.
Democrat Adam Sedlock, a Uniontown psychologist, has mounted a write-in campaign in his bid for the position.
Shuster, meanwhile, said although Halvorson continues to degrade Fayette County residents with his calling the region “the fringe of the district” and Democrats “godless,” he believes it is a vital part of the congressional district.
“I’ve condemned those remarks and continue doing everything I can to better serve my constituents he said. “I have such great respect and admiration for everyone in this region (and) the great people here is why I opened a campaign office in Uniontown.”
Casey Contres, Shuster’s campaign manager, said the office has received inquiries from both Republicans and Democrats over the the past months.
“We encourage anyone to stop by, say hello, and learn more about the work Congressman Shuster is doing for southwestern Pennsylvania,” he said.
The 23 E. Church St. office is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Halvorson, meanwhile, has opened an office at 23 Morgantown Road, within the Uniontown city limits.
Richard Latker, Halvorson’s deputy campaign director, said that the office staff will aid canvassers and poll workers in Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties for the final month of the campaign.
Halvorson lost to Shuster in the four counties in the primary. Districtwide, the margin was a slim 1,009 votes, with Shuster garnering 49,393 votes and Halvorson, 48,166 votes.
The loss, said Latker, prompted the opening of the office to deter similar results on Nov. 8.
“We’ve learned from experience that (sharing candidate information at the polls) is very important in a campaign,” he said. “Our ground game in Fayette County was very weak in the primary.
“It was the only full county (of the 9th Congressional District) that we lost.”
In addition to Fayette, the congressional district includes the entire counties of Indiana, Bedford, Blair, Fulton and Franklin, and portions of Greene, Washington, Westmoreland, Cambria, Huntingdon and Somerset counties.
The office has drawn interest about Halvorson’s bid for the seat and discussion about the GOP presidential candidate.
“It starts the conversation,” said Latker.
He is hopeful the presence of the campaign in Uniontown draws support for Halvorson at the polls.
“Fayette County has always been important to us,” he said. “We will be spreading ourselves and ou resources a little thin, but we want to make sure (the county voters) know we want their support.”
The office is open Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The hours will be extended as more volunteers offer their time to man the location, Latker said.