GOP nominates Lebanon County's Gebhard in race for 48th Senate district

Harper Ho
York Dispatch
FILE - In this May 27, 2020 file photo, a worker processes mail-in ballots at the Bucks County Board of Elections office prior to the primary election in Doylestown, Pa. The counting from Pennsylvania's first foray into mass voting by mail was wrapping up on Tuesday, June 9 a week after the primary, with results of some of races still up in the air. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

Christopher Gebhard overwhelmingly snagged the Republican nomination to replace the late state Sen. Dave Arnold Jr. on Saturday and will go on to vie in a May special election for the 48th Senate District seat.

Gebhard prevailed on the first ballot during a meeting of GOP delegates held at the Lebanon Valley Exposition Center.

Gebhard won a clear majority of the group, getting 68 votes out of 81 cast, according to party officials. The runner-up was Robert Harkins, of Newberry Township, who received 13 votes.

More:State GOP to nominate 48th Senate District candidate Saturday for special election

Harkins was the only other candidate nominated Saturday. Nine candidates had announced their intention to nab the Republican nomination.

The votes were cast by secret ballot, and the process lasted about an hour, with Lebanon County — which makes up the biggest part of the district — receiving the majority of the vote.

Gebhard, of Lebanon County, is president of insurance agency Hoaster Gebhard & Co. in Harrisburg.

Gebhard's acceptance speech focused on his background and qualifications, said Jeff Piccola, chair of the York County Republican Committee.

"He was very humbling. He basically thanked everybody. He was very much interested in making election reforms, repeal of Act 77, or certainly tightening up Act 77, fighting against the governor's tax increase proposals," Piccola said.

Passed with bipartisan support in 2019, Act 77 overhauled elections in Pennsylvania and included the addition of no-excuse mail-in voting, which became a target for former President Donald Trump before and following his loss in the state to President Joe Biden. 

Lebanon County District Attorney Dave Arnold, the Republican nominee for the 48th Senate District Seat.

Pennsylvania's 48th Senate District — which includes northeastern York County, part of Dauphin County and all of Lebanon County — is a reliably Republican area. 

May's vote will mark the second special election in the 48th District in two years.

Arnold, R-Lebanon, won the last special election on Jan. 14, 2020, with 64.7% of the vote over his Democratic opponent, Michael Schroeder.

Arnold died just over a year later, on Jan. 17, after a 15-month battle with brain cancer.  The 49-year-old had served the 48th Senate District for a year after former Sen. Mike Folmer resigned amid a child pornography scandal. 

More:Special election to replace state Sen. Arnold to be held May 18, same day as primary

More:After death of state Sen. Dave Arnold Jr., voters headed for another special election

More:Republican Dave Arnold wins Senate race to replace Folmer

The new special Senate election will coincide with the state's municipal primary elections on May 18.

The state Democratic and Republican parties appoint candidates to run based on the parties' by-laws. The winner of the May ballot will take office in early June, Piccola said. 

Democratic Party committee members from York, Lebanon and Dauphin counties are slated to vote March 13 on that party's nominee before sending their decision to the state party for approval, Dan Sidelnick, chair of the Lebanon County Democrats, has said.

The York County portion of the district comprises 19 voting precincts in Conewago, East Manchester, Newberry and Springettsbury townships and the boroughs of Goldsboro, Lewisberry, Manchester, Mount Wolf and York Haven, said Steve Ulrich, director of elections and voter registration for York County.