Keith Rothfus got his moment in the Tampa sun Tuesday, as he joined a select handful of GOP congressional hopefuls the first round of speakers at the Republican National Convention.
Mr. Rothfus is challenging Rep. Marc Critz, D-Johnstown. He ran a strong race in 2010, falling just short of ousting another Democrat, Rep. Jason Altmire, in the district that was merged with the Critz seat after the 2011 redistricting.
In his brief remarks, Mr. Rothfus invoked his history as a cancer survivor as he denounced the Affordable Health Care Act -- Obamacare, in the GOP coined term that Democrats have come to embrace -- and tied it to an attack on Mr. Critz. The Democratic incumbent has said that he would have voted against the controversial measure, which passed before he took office. But Mr. Rothfus assailed him for a series of more recent votes that upheld portions of the law.
"Having developed and survived a very rare form of cancer that kills 75 percent of its victims within five years, I know all too well the importance of a health care system that empowers the doctor-patient relationship and respects the decisions of the family,'' he said. "There is no greater threat to the health care of our nation and the health care of our seniors than Obamacare. No matter what path we take to save Medicare, the very first step is to repeal Obamacare.
The Critz campaign was delighted when Mitt Romney chose Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, in anticipation of being able to exploit Mr. Ryan's plan to substitute a premium support system, for Americans under 55, for the current structure of Medicare.
But Mr. Rothfus, like other GOP candidates, is not distancing himself from the top of the ticket. In a recent appearance in the district, however, he was hesitant to endorse all of the specifics of the Ryan proposal for future Medicare recipients.
"My district, Pennsylvania-12, has one of the largest Medicare populations in the entire country," Mr. Rothfus said. "My opponent, Congressman Critz, voted over 20 times to support Obamacare, including voting against repeal of the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which empowers not doctors and patients, but bureaucrats in Washington, D.C."
"There is only one ticket that will save Medicare from bankruptcy, preserve Medicare for today's seniors and strengthen Medicare for the future," he said.
"To repeal, to replace, to restore - choose Romney, Ryan and, in western Pennsylvania, Rothfus."
His remarks got an enthusiastic reception from the convention floor, particularly from the Pennsylvania delegation, seated just to the speaker's left.
"Keith Rothfus did a phenomenal job," Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley said. "No one tells the Medicare story better than Keith Rothfus. He knows he likely wouldn't be alive if not for the healthcare system we have."
Delegate Lawrence Tabas, a Philadelphia attorney who serves as general counsel to the Republican State Committee, agreed.
"He hit the key issues," he said, noting that Pennsylvania has more seniors than any state but Florida. "Our senior citizens will be hit hard by Obamacare."
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, said Mr. Rothfus's message will resonate with his district and that his invitation to speak reinforces his position as a strong contender for a congressional race the national party expects to win.
The Critz campaign was quick to push out a statement assailing the Republican's remarks.
"Today's speech is further proof that keith Rothfus wants to end Medicare as we know it by turning Medicare into a voucher program that will cost seniors an additional $6,4000 a year," said Mike Mikus, of the Critz campaign.
James O'Toole: email@example.com