Nittany Lion Ready to Roar

Ron Hostetler Targets Holden

Posted May 9, 2003 at 6:10pm

If Ron Hostetler wins next year’s GOP primary in Pennsylvania’s 17th district, the chatter of pre-season handicapping in Nittany Lion country won’t be limited to just Penn State’s prospects.

Hostetler, a star linebacker for the university football team in the 1970s and brother of former NFL quarterback Jeff Hostetler, is one of two Republicans currently vying for the chance to face Rep. Tim Holden (D) in 2004 after several state lawmakers passed on the race.

Holden defeated 20-year incumbent Rep. George Gekas (R) last year in a matchup created by redistricting. He was the only Democrat to survive the four Member-versus-Member contests, and he has the potential to become one of the Republicans’ top targets this cycle.

Hostetler, who decided he wanted to run for the seat almost immediately after Gekas’ defeat, was in Washington last week to promote his bid, and it didn’t take long for football, and its important role in his campaign, to dominate the conversation.

During his Penn State career, Hostetler garnered All-East and pre-season All-American honors, in addition to being named Sports Illustrated Defensive Player of the Week.

His campaign Web site — www.HossUSA.com — invokes the gridiron nickname he earned at Penn State: “Ron ‘Hoss’ Hostetler candidate for the U.S. House” it reads.

Also, he proudly describes how he makes a cameo appearance in the movie “Lethal Weapon,” which used footage from an old Pitt/Penn State game. (He didn’t receive any royalties for that, he points out.)

In conversation he casually refers to his relationships with legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno and former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. In fact, he credits Paterno with helping him get interested in public service to begin with.

“He’d often talk about public issues, even with the guys,” Hostetler recalled in an interview last week.

But will a little huddle wisdom from “Joe Pa” and his recognizable last name be enough to carry him over the Congressional goal line? He thinks so.

“I’ve played against some teams where we were the underdogs,” Hostetler said, referring to a potential general election race against Holden. “I like the matchup.”

Already Hostetler is putting his Penn State football ties to work. Paterno is making fundraising calls for the former player he recruited off a Lancaster County dairy and poultry farm and gave a full football scholarship to in the early 1970s.

Hostetler was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams after graduating in 1977, but his career was soon cut short by a knee injury. Since 1983 he has taught at-risk youths at the Milton Hershey School, and in the early 1990s he served one term on the Derry Township School Board. According to his biography he has authored two sports books — “What It Takes” and “There is No Joy in Gruntsville” — which he co-wrote with his brother.

“I’m not a wealthy man. I’m a school teacher, but I know a lot of wealthy people,” he said, referring to his connections through the Penn State football program and the NFL.

But before Hostetler can face Holden in November 2004, he must get through a pre-game scrimmage — or, as it’s known in politics, the primary.

Accounting consultant Frank Ryan is also running in the 17th, and at least one other candidate is said to be considering making the race as well. Ryan is also a decorated veteran and is seen by some Republicans as being the strongest candidate on policy issues.

Ryan reported raising $57,900 in the first three months of this year, including a $32,000 loan from the candidate. Hostetler, meanwhile, said he raised $31,900 in the first quarter.

The current slate of Republicans emerged after an initial crop of top-tier candidates, including state Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, state Rep. David Argall and state Sen. David Brightbill, showed no interest in the race.

So far, national Republicans haven’t sent any signals that they have a favorite in the current field, in contrast to the neighboring 15th district, where the state and national GOP have unified behind state Sen. Charlie Dent (R), the candidate they want to succeed Rep. Pat Toomey (R). Toomey is running for Senate.

“I like him a lot better than his brother,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), a die-hard Buffalo Bills fan, joked when asked about Hostetler. The Bills lost to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV while Jeff Hostetler was quarterbacking for the Giants.

As far as the race is concerned, Reynolds cautioned that it is still early enough in the cycle, “when candidates come and go.”

He said the committee is constantly monitoring and measuring the field that is emerging in the 17th, but he stopped short of calling the race a definite target.

“If a good, strong candidate comes about, that seat’s in play,” Reynolds said.

For his part, Holden — who was a high school football star himself — said he can’t worry about who his future opponent will be. Instead he is focused on raising money and other things he must do as a potentially vulnerable incumbent in a GOP-leaning district.

“I knew from the day after the election I’d be, if not the one, one of the top targets for the Republican campaign committee,” said Holden, who has a series of fundraisers set for May and June.

As of March 31, Holden showed just less than $100,000 in the bank. The contest with Gekas was one of the most expensive in the country, and outside groups spent heavily on behalf of both candidates.

Holden said he is also spending time getting acquainted with the 60 percent of his district that he has never before represented. The Republican-controlled state Legislature merged Holden’s old 6th district with Gekas’ 17th district during redistricting to form a redrawn seat that would have voted 57 percent for President Bush in 2000.

“I’m basically a freshman Congressman” in those areas, Holden noted.