Despite GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s loss on election night Nov. 6, Sewickley Republican and U.S. Rep.-elect Keith Rothfus pulled out a big win in a hard-fought battle against Democratic opponent Mark Critz.
Rothfus, 50, a lawyer and father of six, went to work immediately after the election, spending the past week thanking supporters, volunteers and others who helped along the way to that victory.
"I'm making a lot of phone calls, and doing a lot of emails" since then, Rothfus told Sewickley Patch during a recent interview.
A thankful note on his website conveys a similar message : “To all who gave so much for this victory, and all those who voted in PA-12, thank you! I look forward to my duties as your employee, and I am excited to begin representing the great people of southwestern Pennsylvania.”
Rothfus said he went to Washington, D.C. this week to begin new-member orientation in the House of Representatives, starting Tuesday with a welcome reception. He'll be sworn in Jan. 3.
Resonating with voters
Although Rothfus and Critz voiced similar views on abortion, the Affordable Care Act and gun rights during their campaign, Rothfus’s message of smaller, limited government and his stances on economic issues—taxes, debt and government spending—resonated with the majority of voters in the 12th District he'll represent.
Rothfus campaigned for three years for the chance to serve Western Pennsylvania.
In 2010, he made his first congressional bid for the seat in the former 4th District. In the primary, he upset former U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan to win the Republican nomination, only to lose in the general election to U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless.
After the 2010 U.S. Census, however, Republicans redesigned the congressional map. The results of that redistricting combined much of Altmire's former 4th District with portions of the district then represented by Critz, a former aide to the late U.S. Rep. John Murtha. Other Democratic territory was shaved away and added to the 14th district now served by U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills.
The sprawling new 12th district now stretches from southern Lawrence County into Beaver and through parts of Allegheny, Westmoreland, Somerset and Cambria counties. Rothfus, who formerly lived outside the 12th District in Edgeworth, moved to Sewickley, which lies within the district's boundaries.
Critz, 50, of Johnstown, defeated Altmire in the Democratic primary before going up against Rothfus for the 12th District seat.
Their election fight shaped up to be one of the nation’s most competitive races to watch, with millions of dollars in campaign funds poured into advertisements and commercials to help sway votes. Critz carried support in his neck of the woods, Cambria and Somerset counties, but Rothfus came out ahead in more conservative parts of the district, including much of the North Hills.
Locals who know Rothfus say he appealed to voters because he's a family man and because he's not a career politician, but hails instead from the private sector.
“For me, Keith Rothfus represents the 'citizen legislator' rather than the 'professional politician,'” said Sewickley Heights resident Peter Sour. “Family values rather than political obligations are Keith's core.”
"People like the idea that you're not from government," Rothfus said. "We need some folks from the private sector."
Carrying his home base
Rothfus also carried his local home base, defeating Critz in all 11 Quaker Valley communities, where the majority of votes in the presidential race also went to Romney. In neighboring Beaver County, however, where registered Democrats have an edge over registered Republicans, Rothfus lost in votes.
Municipalities that make up the 12th district are vastly different, from struggling mill towns to suburban communities to rural farm areas. Rothfus said the solutions for the problems faced by the district's residents are the same.
"The common theme is the same economic policies that prompt growth in Beaver County will promote growth in Sewickley and Johnstown," he said.
That means keeping taxes low and enacting tax reforms that work, he said. Rothfus said he'd like to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but he doesn't believe that will be possible now that President Barack Obama has been re-elected.
"I would like to repeal it, but that’s not going to happen while he’s president," he said. "It's going to do a lot of damage to our health care system."
Rothfus said he appreciates the scope of the work that lies ahead for him, and his top priorities are to get people working and to focus on the economy.
"No. 1 is to get this economy growing again so we can get jobs back, and I'm anxious to hear what the president has to offer on that one," he said.
Rothfus said the president is proposing a big tax increase on small businesses come Jan. 1 despite saying a year ago that tax increases don't work in a struggling economy.
"And that’s a problem," he said.
Rothfus said he will work with other members of the House of Representatives to move the country forward.
"I'm excited to be able to represent the people in the 12th Congressional District in Congress," Rothfus said.