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Keith Rothfus Gets His Two Minutes, 237 Words of Fame at the RNC

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Rothfus boarded the plane to Florida at 5:45 a.m. Monday for a two-day trip that included his speech, a reception for Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and hearing Boehner address a delegation dining this particular morning on omelets. During the Ohio Republican's talk, Rothfus stood in the back of the room next to a potted plant, arms crossed over his chest.

The Rothfus appearance is especially notable because his Democratic opponent plans to skip out on his party's convention next week in Charlotte, N.C. But Critz's campaign paid attention to Rothfus' speech and sent out a statement attacking him minutes after he left the podium.

"Today's speech is further proof that Keith Rothfus wants to end Medicare as we know it," Critz spokesman Mike Mikus shot back.

The president and, to a lesser degree, his national party are unpopular in southwestern Pennsylvania. The area is filled with Reagan Democrats who overwhelmingly supported Critz's former boss and predecessor, the late Rep. John Murtha (D).

Independent polling of the race is scarce, but Democrats have released several internal polls showing Critz ahead of Rothfus by a few points. Privately, Republicans confess Critz is one of the strongest campaigners in the country.

"He's still the underdog," Madonna continued. "He still has the challenge of defeating an incumbent who understands the voters of that region. You have to give the edge to Critz, as we speak, but it's not insurmountable."

Rothfus has defied the odds before. A survivor of appendix cancer, Rothus ran his first marathon 18 months after doctors opened up his body, removed his vital organs and washed them in a chemotherapy bath in 2007.

"I'm reading the post-op report, and it says, 'The small intestine was returned to its anatomical position,'" Rothfus recalled in an interview. "They had it everywhere. They had to look for tumors."

Raised near Buffalo, N.Y., Rothfus speaks in a combination of upstate New York and southwestern Pennsylvania accent. He rushes through answers with numerical detail, rattling off his age when President Ronald Reagan was elected (18), raffle tickets he purchased while campaigning last week (16), the length of his small intestine (22 feet) and his loss margin last cycle (1.6 percent).

"We didn't have the national support then," Rothfus said. "There's a very big difference there when the [National Republican Congressional Committee] has made this a very high-profile race. I hoped they would make it a high-profile race back in 2010."

When the time came on Tuesday afternoon, Rothfus took the stage 20 minutes ahead of schedule - so much for all his friendly reminders. Underneath him, throngs of delegates decked out in red, white and blue garb chatted and moved around on the floor.

His speech was 237 words. It lasted two minutes and four seconds.

"It was a great surprise when I saw Keith walk in today at breakfast," said state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a Pennsylvania Republican delegate watching Rothfus from the floor. "He was identified as one who had a chance the last time and I think he has a significant shot this time."

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