By Ali Carey, Contributing Writer
If you’ve been to a local Republican picnic this summer, you might have heard one of the newest names in the GOP race to unseat Senator Bob Casey in 2012.
John Vernon, 51, is a U.S. Army veteran recently retired from the service and officially formed an exploratory committee with the FEC in July. Describing himself as a “Conservative Republican,” Vernon, of Mansfield, has been hitting the campaign trail this summer in preparation for his upcoming announcement in Philadelphia.
PoliticsPA caught up with Vernon between campaign trail visits yesterday. The first-time candidate emphasized his military experience and said that is what led him to seek public office.
“Serving in public office is a continuation of public service,” he said. “That is something that stands out because it is bigger than ourselves.”
“The country is looking for devoted leadership. I served my country for 32 years in uniform where I provided devoted leadership. Now that I’m wearing a suit and tie I will continue to be committed to providing devoted leadership.”
Though most of Vernon’s experience is in the armed service, most of his platform deals with the the economy. In a release, Vernon emphasized red meat conservative issues: reducing government regulation, ending bailouts, lowering taxes and replacing ‘Obamacare.’
His summer so far has been spent on the trail. His facebook page displays photos of him campaigning from Erie to Montgomery County.
Vernon characterized his fundraising as going “extremely well.” He and his wife initially contributed a considerable amount of their personal funds to help jump start his campaign.
Vernon says that what separates him from other potential GOP candidates for Senator is his lifetime devotion to serving his country. He maintains that his experience serving in uniform as a member of the armed services is the primary issue and leadership trait that stands out.
He certainly faces an uphill battle, even before the general election. He’s from Mansfield, Tioga County – not much of a geographic base. And name recognition of nearly zero means Vernon is starting from scratch.
In the absence of an obvious front runner, a number of first time candidates have thrown hats in the ring.
Vernon joins Republicans David Christian, Laureen Cummings, and Tom Smith as all-but-definite candidates. Harrisburg area attorney Marc Scaringi has already declared his candidacy.
Growing up in Mansfield
Vernon grew up on his parents’ beef and dairy farm in Mansfield. It was at his family’s farm that he learned the “value of a day’s hard work”. After growing up during the Great Depression, Vernon’s parents instilled in him the importance of being “self-reliant”, a value he finds especially critical during today’s tough economic conditions.
In 1977 he graduated from Mansfield Junior/Senior High School, enrolled in the Pennsylvania National Guard and later joined the ROTC program at Rutgers University. Vernon was deployed in Operation Desert Storm, Operation Joint Guard in Bosnia, and most recently Operation Iraqi Freedom. He rose through the ranks to his final rank as Colonel in the U.S. Army, and earned a number of medals and other acknowledgments (pdf).
“The greatest honor that was bestowed upon me was being able to lead some of the greatest men and women our nation has to offer both in peace time and in war time,” he said.
Vernon and his wife of 28 years, the former Diana Gonzalez have two children, Erica, age 27, and John, Jr., age 25. Erika works in the health care industry and John, Jr. is currently in college having previously served in the military for 6 years. Vernon spoke fondly of serving alongside his son.
Caroline Johnston contributed to this report.