By Stephen Caruso
For the Pittsburgh Current
A messy primary fight between a former congressional hopeful and an arch-conservative Harrisburg veteran is brewing north of Pittsburgh.
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, is mostly known for inducing rage in liberal circles for inviting white nationalists to his committee and hosting climate skeptics. But the 11-term western Pennsylvania lawmaker’s antics have provoked an intra-party challenge this spring.
Air Force veteran Scott Timko, a 54-year-old from Metcalfe’s hometown of Cranberry Township in Butler County, filed paperwork this week for the April 28 Republican primary.
Timko told the Penn Capital-Star (news partner of the Pittsburgh Current) this week that Metcalfe’s “grandstanding” has made enemies in the red-tinged district.
“Conservative is one thing, but extremism is another thing,” Timko, a pilot and restaurant owner, said. “Quite frankly, Daryl is an extremist and I don’t think extremists serve their constituents.”
Timko originally announced in August 2019 that he would run against U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-17th District, whose seat includes Cranberry. Instead, Timko said he changed his mind after realizing he’d have a greater impact as a state representative.
Beating Metcalfe, Timko said, would “be challenging,” because Metcalfe “runs a rough campaign.” And speaking to the Capital-Star, Metcalfe, a U.S. Army veteran and seasoned campaigner, came out swinging.
“I’ve been fighting the fight in Harrisburg and clowns like this guy think they’re going to run with a last minute filing?” Metcalfe said, “He has no idea what a state representative is supposed to do.”
Metcalfe, who said he had been “gearing up for a primary,” called Timko “unstable” a half-dozen times for the late switch into the state House race.
He added that taking money to beat Democrat Lamb, only to now run in a primary against a Republican incumbent, showed a lack of integrity.
Metcalfe, who bragged that he was a Tea Partier before it was cool, has been thrust into the state’s spotlight ever since the GOP took the House in the Tea Party wave of 2010.
As a lawmaker and powerful committee chair, he’s taunted Democrats on social media and pushed proposals to block same sex marriage, validate birther conspiracy theories, and to make English the official language of Pennsylvania. He also single-handedly blocked a non-partisan bill to fix redistricting in Pennsylvania.
He also consistently votes against budget compromises struck between Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the GOP-controlled General Assembly.
But the hardline conservatism carries into Metcalfe’s dealings with local officials in the 12th House District, which includes Cranberry as well as the boroughs of Seven Fields and Mars.
Metcalfe has feuded with Cranberry’s commissioners, as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, because of his commitment to limited government. He “doesn’t bring the bacon back home,” one local official told the Post-Gazette.
Nearly half of the district’s voters live in Cranberry, an affluent suburb 20 miles north of Pittsburgh. Timko plans to capitalize on this split.
“He’s got some supporters out here to be sure. But by my whip count, more often than not, [Metcalfe’s name] doesn’t produce a favorable response,” Timko said.
Metcalfe denied that he hasn’t worked for his district, saying he’s always lent his name and voice to local projects as needed.
Timko isn’t the first candidate to try and turn the district against the incumbent.
In 2014, local school board member Gordon Marburger tried to run against Metcalfe in the GOP primary. He was knocked off the ballot, but then ran a write-in campaign that fell short by 10 points. Marburger ran again in 2016 and lost by double that margin.
Far from being an extremist, Metcalfe said the “the majority of people in the district want their pocketbooks protected and their values protected, and that’s why they elect me time and time again.”
Like Metcalfe, Timko said he was also a pro-Second Amendment Republican opposed to abortion rights. The challenger also called Metcalfe a career politician after serving for more than two decades.
“[Metcalfe] talks about lower taxes and he took the lifetime pension option. So when he leaves the House he’s going to be paid for the rest of his life,” Timko said.
In response, Metcalfe quipped that “if you didn’t save for retirement, your constituents shouldn’t reelect you” because it’s “foolish” to not save.
He added he’s supportive of a complete move for all public employees to a defined-contribution retirement plan, such as a 401(k).
One Democrat is also on the ballot, Dan Smith, who ran unsuccessfully in 2018 against Metcalfe. While only garnering about 42 percent of the vote, Smith’s finish was the best ever Democratic performance against Metcalfe. In fact, Smith was not only competitive against Metcalfe in Cranberry Township, he even beat the incumbent in one ward.
Stephen Caruso is a reporter for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star where this story first appeared.