Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone applauds before he is introduced at his campaign event Monday in the Pennsylvania Capitol to formally declare his candidacy for U.S. Senate in 2018.
By Karen Langley and Chris Potter / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
HARRISBURG — A conservative Republican state representative from southwestern Pennsylvania, Rick Saccone, announced his campaign for the U.S. Senate on Monday, telling supporters that if they send him to Washington, he will serve as an ally of President Donald Trump.
Speaking in the state Capitol rotunda, Mr. Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township, called U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, “a remnant of that liberal philosophy” in Washington. He criticized Mr. Casey for opposing nominees for the Trump Cabinet and said the Democrat has not supported small business or defended religious liberty.
“President Trump was elected to go drain the swamp, and I want to go and help him,” Mr. Saccone said to applause from supporters. “We will set the country back on the right course, and then I’ll come home.”
Mr. Saccone, 59, has served in the Pennsylvania House since 2011. He is among the Legislature’s most conservative members, with an 86 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union.
“How do you like our new president, by the way?” he asked a crowd of supporters, who cheered in response, and continued to cheer as he asked for shows of support for first lady Melania Trump, veterans, the anti-abortion movement, religious belief and the Second Amendment.
He has previously been backed by groups that oppose abortion rights and is a political ally of state Sen. Scott Wagner, a York Republican who this winter launched his bid to challenge Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2018 re-election. He is among the Legislature’s leading advocates for firearm owners: So far this year, he has sponsored at least four bills directed at gun ownership.
Among those are a measure that would expand the state’s Human Relations Act to bar discrimination against those who carry firearms. As an example of such discrimination, a co-sponsorship memo singled out the children’s pizza venue Chuck E. Cheese for a policy barring customers from carrying firearms inside.
He has called in the past for requiring schools to display the motto “In God We Trust.”
One of the speakers at the campaign announcement, Gary Dull, pastor of the Faith Baptist Church of Altoona and a representative of the Pennsylvania Pastors Network, noted that Mr. Saccone has written a book titled “God in Our Government.”
“I’m looking forward to the time when Rick will be taking God into the government in Washington, D.C.,” Rev. Dull said.
Mr. Saccone was elected to the 39th District House seat in 2010, a year in which he beat Democratic incumbent David Levdansky by just 151 votes, a margin of 0.7 percent. A 2012 rematch was even closer, but Mr. Saccone has had an easier time since, beating Democrats in 2014 and 2016 by margins of 60-40 and 70-30, respectively.
A retired Air Force officer, Mr. Saccone has also worked as a TV news anchor on an English-language station in South Korea and represented an international organization in North Korea, according to his campaign biography. In 2002, he received a Ph.D. in public and international affairs from the University of Pittsburgh.
Mr. Casey, 56, served as Pennsylvania auditor general and treasurer before winning election to the U.S. Senate in 2006 and re-election in 2012.
He is known as a mild-mannered politician, but he has been vocal in recent weeks in criticizing Mr. Trump’s immigration restrictions and some of his Cabinet nominations.
Representatives of the Casey campaign had no comment on Mr. Saccone’s announcement.
In a statement, Brandon Cwalina, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said: “State Representative Rick Saccone says he wants to help President Trump ‘drain the swamp,’ but Rick Saccone’s been a big part of the legislative swamp in Harrisburg, voting for billion dollar cuts to education and against the interests of workers and families. Representative Saccone’s resume reeks of the Harrisburg swamp that Pennsylvania families are tired of.”
Karen Langley: firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-787-2141 or on Twitter @karen_langley. Chris Potter: email@example.com or 412-263-2533.
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