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Shuster and DelGrosso square off in Debate at Penn State Altoona

The two congressional Republican candidates for the Ninth District in Pennsylvania participated in a debate this morning at the Penn State-Altoona campus.
While Congressman Bill Shuster and challenger Michael DelGrosso fielded questions during the one-hour event, the debate also provided each candidate with the opportunity to cite differences between the other. Neither candidate refrained from making note of what each considered to be negative characterizations of each other even when those mentions weren’t directly related to the questions.
DelGrosso started his opening remarks by displaying a snail in a jar and by the end of the debate noted the snail hadn’t moved much. The challenger used the analogy to describe what he believes his opponent does in dealing with the issues when what is required is new and more innovative ideas to speed up the process of moving Pennsylvania forward economically
“Congressman Shuster has no plan,” said DelGrosso. “I won’t just run for office but I’ll continue to run while I’m in office.”
Shuster led off the opening remarks by citing what he’s done and will continue to do for the district.
“This is about real leadership, real experience and real results,” said Shuster.
The candidates fielded questions on a variety of issues, including Iraq, global dealings, education, taxes, healthcare, energy and the economy including the outsourcing of jobs.
Shuster noted he’s been a part of the district as both a congressman and a businessman for more than a dozen years while DelGrosso left the area for many years, only to return to make the run for district.
“I haven’t been in Washington just writing some papers,” said Shuster. “I’ve worked here running a business, raising my family, volunteering and then serving the district. My opponent wasn’t here.”
Shuster explained while he’s been in the area or serving it as a congressman, DelGrosso was going to school or working in other parts of the country including most recently as a consultant in Washington, D.C.
DelGrosso said he’s heard little about what the congressman would do differently for the district until he was forced to because he has an opponent. He indicated turning Pennsylvania around would take more than just improving or building roads and infrastructure.
“I’ve taken the risk of putting together a 15-page economic plan,” said DelGrosso.
Shuster also explained what he’s done to help get the nation and the state’s economy going.
“I’ve helped cut taxes, not once but three times,” said Shuster. “I support regional development and we’ve worked on the Interstate 99 project as well as improvements to state Route 453 into Huntingdon County.”
Shuster also explained his displeasure with some of the DelGrosso campaign tactics indicating he wasn’t going to take it anymore without responding.
“I’ve taken insults and criticism,” said Shuster. “He’s tried to tear down what I’ve done in Washington and I will fight back.”
DelGrosso responded saying that the Shuster campaign has participated in personal attacks during the campaign. He held up a flyer to illustrate his point.
“This flyer says I’m an opportunist,” said DelGrosso. “This is a blatant personal attack.”
Towards the end of the debate, both candidates were asked to reflect on the first 45 minutes of the event and what they had heard from each other.
Congressman Shuster indicated he thought DelGrosso was trying to make an issue out of which man was better educated. Shuster noted he held an MBA and also noted he didn’t just work for a family business but was a business owner. He also indicated he was glad he was able to bring back money to the district since entering Congress.
“This isn’t just funny money, it’s real dollars,” said Shuster.
DelGrosso then spent time detailing spying controversies that Shuster found himself involved not once, but twice last year.
He noted the congressman’s involvement in last the Blair County commissioner’s race which involving allegations of spying on Commissioner John Echleberger. Then he talked about the incident which affected him more directly.
Last year a Shuster congressional aide was accused of spying in the neighborhood where DelGrosso now resides in Tipton.
“Congressman Shuster spied and denied,” said DelGrosso. “He said he didn’t know anything about it. It’s an abuse of power.”
Shuster responded that he took responsibility for the incident.
“I accepted responsibility for it,” said Shuster. “I went into the neighborhood and apologized and I asked for an investigation. DelGrosso doesn’t accept responsibilities, he’s only voted in five out of 28 elections and this year will be only the second primary he’s voted in.”
DelGrosso said that was misinformation and he has voted in elections out of state.
In conclusion, DelGrosso said he wanted to serve the people and not the special interests. He also suggested the people in the district needed a congressman they could trust, not one who abuses power and is involved in scandals written about in newspapers.
Shuster concluded by thanking his constituents and reemphasizing the theme of real results and real leadership.
At least 300 people attended the sold out event at the arts center on the Penn State-Altoona campus. It was also broadcast live on at least two area radio stations, WTRN in Tyrone and WRTA in Altoona. The debate will air this afternoon on television station WJAC, Johnstown at 4 p.m.. and this evening at 11:35 p.m. on WTAJ, Altoona.
The Republican primary will be held next Tuesday, April 27.
(Daily Herald reporter Sam Zema monitored today’s debate from WTRN’s broadcast of the event.)