Denlinger vs. Aument: Who will be the life of the party?
The GOP’s May 20 primary for the 36th District Senate seat pairs similar candidates Gordon Denlinger and Ryan Aument.
Both are pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, pro-Second Amendment conservatives who promote Judeo-Christian values and support spending cuts and welfare reform.
But the candidates have successfully differentiated themselves on opposite sides of a referendum on the Republican Committee of Lancaster County’s endorsement system.
Denlinger supporters articulate anguish over the GOP’s endorsement in February of Aument, a representative for the 41st District.
The party’s subsequent lambasting of Denlinger for not going gently into the night only served to rally support for Denlinger, a representative for the 99th District.
Bob Winegardner, a staunch Denlinger supporter from Earl Township, attended the Lancaster County GOP convention three months ago when the Republican Committee officially endorsed Aument to succeed the retiring Sen. Michael Brubaker.
“I’m not sure the primary will be a referendum on the system but maybe (a referendum) on the people who manipulated and maneuvered the system,” Winegardner said while attending a Denlinger fund-raiser in Ephrata Saturday.
Of course, that’s not everyone’s perception.
Leslie Penkunas, a committeewoman from Elizabeth Township who supports Aument, took offense to criticisms of the county GOP committee.
“Let’s not forget that Mr. Denlinger fought very hard to garner what he and his supporters now eschew &tstr; endorsement from the elected committee members,” Penkunas noted.
That sentiment was echoed by Randall Meyers, who’s been a GOP committeeman in both Lancaster and York counties.
Meyers championed the committee system that endorsed Aument and rejected that Denlinger is the “outsider being bullied by the party elite.”
Denlinger was “hand-picked” by the party in 2002 to replace Leroy Zimmerman, who died after being reelected to the 99th legislative district seat, Meyers said.
“To fill that position until the next election in 2004, the 32 Republican committee people in that district met behind closed doors, interviewed five different candidates, and voted,” Myers noted. “After many rounds of voting, Rep. Denlinger won that election by one vote.”
At his fundraiser Saturday, Denlinger declared his campaign as going “very, very well.” That has prompted a negative campaign by Aument, he said.
Denlinger also suggested that a backlash against the committee system has inspired a groundswell of support.
“We’ve got a lot of positive momentum at the ground level that’s with average folks who come up to me…and say ‘thanks for sticking in there and not letting them force you out of the race’,” Denlinger said.
Denlinger and Aument will debate Thursday at 7 p.m. at Grace Brethren Church of Lititz. Denlinger will likely portray himself as running a clean race opposite Aument’s negativity.
Aument’s website notes that Denlinger &tstr; whose been in office almost 12 years &tstr; has supported budgets that “increased spending by billions of dollars, including voting with Gov. Ed Rendell for two budgets that raised spending a total of more than $2.5 billion.”
Former state Rep. Scott Boyd stated &tstr; what has become a steady refrain from Aument supporters &tstr; in a letter to the editor published in the Lititz Record Express April 17 that Denlinger has accepted per diem money in the past and continues to receive travel reimbursements that Aument refuses.
Tom Zeager, Clay Township GOP committeeman, said the “negativity is a mistake and likened Boyd’s rhetoric as “political gamesmanship.”
Boyd, a 10-year state representative from West Lampeter, announced he was leaving office in 2012.
“Scott Boyd is a good man and I was disappointed when he left the house,” Zeager said Saturday. “But he left the house for the same reason: he didn’t like political games.”
Patrick Burns is a staff writer for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 721-4455