POLITICS runs through the Shuster family the same way the Allegheny Mountains dominate this part of central Pennsylvania. Great granddad was a mayor of Pittsburgh. Pop is running for reelection to the United States Congress. Mom oversees the campaign office.
Now Bob Shuster, who has been campaigning door to door for his elders since the age of 6, is stumping for himself. ''Hi, I'm Bob Shuster and I'm running for Congress!'' the former congressional aide tells any voter who bothers coming to the door.
If he is elected in Pennsylvania's Fifth Congressional District and his father, Bud, wins reelection in the Ninth, they will become the first father-son team in the history of the US House of Representatives. In the 1950s, Ohioans elected a mother and son to the House, but no father and son have ever served at the same time.
The family ties that bind, however, don't always buoy a campaign. Sometimes they sink it. Congressional races are riddled with losses by the offspring of officeholders.
The plot thickens
The Shusters, both Republicans, have an added problem: an unfolding ethics scandal involving the elder Shuster. While it probably doesn't threaten the reelection of Bud Shuster, it may cloud the campaign of the son, political analysts say.
''I haven't gotten any sense that he [Bud Shuster] faces a serious challenge yet,'' says G. Terry Madonna, professor of political science at Millersville University in Millersville, Pa. ''The question is whether the sins of the father are visited on the son.''
The scandal broke last month when Roll Call, a biweekly newspaper covering Congress, published a story about the ties between Congressman Shuster and lobbyist Ann Eppard. It revealed that he stayed overnight at her Washington-area home, that she serves as his paid political adviser and fund-raiser, and that his campaign records reside at her home. The congressman quickly revealed that, in fact, he and his family have stayed many times with Ms. Eppard, a longtime family friend as well as a former aide for more than 20 years.
The public-interest group Common Cause on March 6 called for a House ethics investigation into the relationship. A week earlier, a Ralph Nader watchdog group asked the Justice Department to investigate the matter. They charge that Shuster and Eppard may have violated federal laws that prohibit congressmen from receiving gifts of value in exchange for an official act. Eppard is a transportation lobbyist, who reportedly earned more than $600,000 last year, and Shuster is chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
Ethics committee approval?
Shuster did check with the House Ethics Committee on his arrangement with Eppard. He claims the committee staffer said that, because of their long relationship, it did not break ethics rules for Eppard to give paid political advice, to offer him and his family overnight stays at her home, or to drive him to events.
The Ethics Committee has a different spin on that December conversation, which it says did not involve approval of hospitality and gifts during 1995 and only covered gifts received under the stricter ethics laws that went into effect Jan. 1. ''My staffer thought he was referring to the effects of the new gift rule,'' says Ted Van Der Meid, the committee's chief counsel. The committee has not announced so far that it is taking any action.
These allegations seem distant here in Bradford, Pa., where Bob Shuster dodges potholes and snow in search of voters. His goal is to knock on 20,000 doors by the April 23 primary. Door-to-door politicking is practically the only way to reach voters scattered about the 10,000-square-mile Fifth District, which takes up more than half of Pennsylvania's northern tier.
On a recent morning jaunt through Bradford, not a single voter mentions his father's brewing ethics scandal. ''This race is about Bob Shuster,'' he says, back on his red campaign bus, the Bob 1. But he acknowledges the problem of having a political dad. ''He has been a source of ideas, a source of energy. He can be a help in the campaign,'' the younger Shuster says. But, ''he can also be a downside.''
Political analysts give the younger Shuster a chance of winning here because the incumbent, Rep. William Clinger (R), announced his surprise retirement in January. Within four days, Shuster, an aide to Mr. Clinger, announced his intention to run, set up a campaign office, lined up 38 billboards in the district to carry his ads, and prepared a radio ad campaign.
Still, he faces an uphill battle. Two other Republican challengers hail from populous Centre County, where Shuster has the best name recognition. And the acknowledged front-runner is state Sen. John Peterson, whose current district represents about a third of the Fifth District.
Senator Peterson says he isn't going to attack Shuster on his father's connections to Eppard, even though she also serves as fund-raiser and political consultant to the younger Shuster.
''I think the major concern is who is prepared to be the congressman,'' Peterson says. He is the only one of the four candidates to hold political office. But he did challenge temporarily Shuster's voter petitions, before withdrawing the challenge just before it was to go to court.
The race ''is pretty warm now, and it's going to get warmer,'' says David Buffington, editor of the Pennsylvania Report in Harrisburg, Pa. ''Shuster brings a lot of access to this race, mainly his daddy's influence and money. And as Steve Forbes has taught us, the liberal application of money can solve a whole host of problems.... [But] this remains Peterson's race to lose.''