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At debate, Pa. GOP candidates strike conservative chord

NEW YORK - They would never raise a single tax, not under any circumstance, even for war.

NEW YORK - They would never raise a single tax, not under any circumstance, even for war.

Nor allow a woman to have an abortion. Nor limit gun owners' rights. In fact, they said, a gun license from one state should be valid in all.

So went the tenor of Friday's debate among seven of 10 Republican candidates from Pennsylvania vying to take on Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) next fall.

That is, until the subject of the Penn State scandal came up - and one candidate revealed that he had been a victim of childhood sexual abuse.

The six men and one woman who took the stage at the Plaza hotel struck chords of fiscal and social conservatism, in opening statements as well as during the question-and-answer period.

During the event, staged as part of the annual Pennsylvania Society gathering, all said they could not support a federal deficit-reduction plan that included any tax increases, and almost all advocated reducing or capping spending.

"I was raised on paying bills and not running up debt," said Sam Rohrer, a former state representative from Berks County.

The candidates agreed that an idea championed by President Obama - a temporary surcharge on personal incomes over $1 million to extend the payroll tax cut - was unfair and would amount to class warfare.

Laureen Cummings, a nurse and an activist with Scranton Tea Party, said of taxes. "That's our money. They are taking money out of our pockets to invest in what they want, not what we want."

To varying degrees, the candidates also agreed that Iran must be kept from having nuclear weapons.

Lawyer Marc Scaringi of Cumberland County said he thought a better strategy was to engage the Iranians and to de-escalate tensions via negotiations: "I don't think we should be encouraging the beating of the drums of war."

All seven said they could not support a judicial nominee who backed abortion rights. All said Roe v. Wade should be overturned, with many adding there should be no circumstances under which a woman could seek an abortion.

"Can any one of you sitting here tell me when a person becomes a person?" asked Vietnam veteran Dave Christian of Bucks County.

Modern medical technology, said entrepreneur Steve Welch of Chester County, has made it possible to see images of a life growing inside a woman's body, which he said has contributed to the number of Americans who are against abortion.

Cummings said she had been brought up in foster care and was a teenager when her twins were born. Pittsburgh-area businessman Tim Burns said that his parents, too, were teens when they had him - and that his mother's parents disowned her for that decision.

And that was not the debate's most personal moment.

When the seven were asked about the child-sex-abuse scandal at Pennsylvania State University and whether they believed football coach Joe Paterno was justly fired, all said they did, based on what they had read.

Christian went on to say that when he was 7, he had been a victim of sexual abuse. Retired Army Sgt. Robert Mansfield said that the issue was personal for him, as well - and that he did not want to elaborate.

The debate was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Business Council Education Foundation. Questioners included Inquirer chief political writer Thomas Fitzgerald.

Absent from the event but also running in the GOP primary are: Tom Smith, a former coal-company owner from southwestern Pennsylvania; Bedford County pharmacist John Kensinger; and John Vernon, a retired Army colonel from Tioga County.

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