A common expression in American politics since the Nixon administration – Will he play Peoria? – has survived its literal sense that the city of central Illinois is an indicator of national opinion. As Pennsylvania votes to select a new US senator in 2022, “Will it play in Pittsburgh?” Might be more appropriate, as it sums up the importance of the political climate in western Pennsylvania.
In the heavily Democratic metropolis of Pittsburgh, some candidates simply cannot survive the region’s still-left politics. For example, Democrat Mike Doyle, whose congressional district centers around the densest part of Allegheny County, announced his retirement this month amid a main challenge from rising Democratic Socialist Summer Lee. , who currently sits in the State House of Representatives.
“After starting at the center-right, Doyle voted quietly under the leadership of [Nancy] Pelosi and other leftist leaders, ”Luke Negron, the 28-year-old Republican who challenged Doyle last year, told me. “Unfortunately for him,” he added, “the new wave of progressives were not impressed by his survival-based political masquerade. People see through a yes-man.
The moderate 27-year-old congressman leaves the stage with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, another “old guard” Democrat who lost this year’s primary due to insufficient progressivism. His opponent, State Representative Ed Gainey, is easily favored to win next week’s general election in Pittsburgh, which has not had a Republican mayor since 1933.
This year, other local races also have a progressive trend. Allegheny County primaries for district and common advocacy judges, who determine sentencing, bail and deportations reviews, turned massively to the left in May thanks to the campaign of five progressive organizations national. Two far-left newcomers won the Pittsburgh School Board primaries. And in Mount Oliver, in the South Hills area, progressive schoolteacher JoAnna Taylor ousted Mayor Frank Bernardini, a moderate Democrat who made the mistake of being photographed with a city council member who wore a MAGA hat.
However, recent election results don’t necessarily indicate that all of western Pennsylvania has become a hotbed of progressivism. The moderate candidates are besieged by the left, but even more by the right, which has built a stronghold in the region’s suburbs and small towns in the Rust Belt between the northern Alleghenies and the Ohio border.
Consider recent examples. The growing Republican caucus in the southwestern GOP-majority state legislature, for example, has prevented Democrats from consolidating power through redistribution reform. In 2020, the conservative newcomers toppled three seats in the State House. The winners – Jason Silvis, Carrie DelRosso and Devlin Robinson – toppled Democrats who had served for more than 50 years combined. Another veteran Democrat, McKeesport’s Jim Brewster, narrowly lost his race to newcomer Nicole Ziccarelli, but retained his seat when a federal court urgently approved an additional slice of unsigned postal ballots. Ziccarelli is now a candidate for Westmoreland County District Attorney.
Despite recent census results showing population decline in western Pennsylvania, Republican leaders still predict growth through the resilience of tight-knit communities and thriving local industries, such as natural gas and machining. tailored. As Scott Avolio, a member of the Westmoreland County GOP State Committee, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: “The party looked at things and knew they were going to continue losing seats in the East, so it made sense to concentrate resources in the west. “
Both political parties are watching Pittsburgh in next year’s US Senate election, which will feature three prominent candidates from the region. On the Democratic side, rivals include Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman (former mayor of Braddock) and moderate Democratic representative Conor Lamb, who comes from a prominent local political family. Fetterman and Lamb are the main contenders for the Democratic nomination, with Vanity Fair even calling Lamb “the last and best hope for Democrats to retain control of Congress.”
The leading candidate on the Republican side is decorated Army Rangers veteran Sean Parnell, who failed to topple Lamb from Congress in 2020. Parnell is the Republicans’ frontrunner, especially after his main challenger, Jeff Bartos, dropped out. the confident and affable image of his campaign to launch personal attacks on Parnell’s family.
With the retirement of 10-year-old Republican Pat Toomey, the Senate election – whatever the outcome – will be a major turning point. As a senator, Toomey has maintained relatively moderate positions on issues such as immigration and foreign policy. Over time, his public disagreements with Donald Trump distanced him from the former president’s state base; he voted in February to convict Trump on charges of inciting insurgency.
Because of these divisions in the GOP base, CNN has rated Toomey’s seat as the most likely to tip over in 2022. But while Democratic voters hope to add another seat to their nominal majority in the Senate, many Republicans are also mobilized to vote for a populist reformer like Parnell to cast a decisive vote in the currently 50-50 chamber.
As it stands, Parnell’s populist-style platform has increased its popularity among conservatives in Allegheny County. He hopes to expand his appeal to voters across the state from all walks of life. “Sean’s base is made up of Republicans, Independents and Democrats who want to protect jobs, keep our communities safe, secure our elections and have the best education system in the world,” his campaign manager told me. , Andrew Brey. In less polarized times, this is a platform that most Pennsylvanians would likely approve of – especially West Pennsylvanians who are feeling the brunt of last year’s lockdowns, rising retail prices, the withdrawal of $ 1.5 billion from US steel. in the Mon valley, and other calamities of the pandemic era. But in 2022, Parnell’s platform could prove to be as controversial as his most prominent approval: Trump.
For Republicans, the Senate race will revolve around rising populism, while Democrats will face a similar divide over radicalism. The Franklin & Marshall October poll shows that more than two-thirds of Pennsylvania voters think the state is headed in the wrong direction – and they cite “the government and the politicians” by far as the biggest problem. And according to the pollster’s August survey, resentment against public officials was accompanied by concerns about inequality, as only 26 percent of those polled believed the country’s wealth was fairly distributed.
Like Republicans, Democratic candidates will need to bridge party divisions. Initially, Fetterman bragged about the campaign’s fundraising and name recognition that most pundits believed would propel him to the nomination. But now the far-left candidate has to take on Lamb, a relatively moderate congressman who has walked a tightrope from western Pennsylvania on policies where his constituents are more conservative, such as guns, l energy, law enforcement and abortion.
A microcosm of Democratic factionalism, the showdown will inevitably shed light on Lamb and Fetterman’s Western roots in Pennsylvania. I have corresponded with both Lamb’s brother Coleman and Fetterman’s deputy campaign manager Eric Stern, but despite cordial responses, neither has agreed to officially talk about their campaigns’ chances of winning. votes in western Pennsylvania.
Voters won’t necessarily be struck by Steel City’s good faith. Caught in the midst of intramural Republican and Democratic strife, West Pennsylvanians are looking for something new – whether populist or progressive – to allay their growing concerns, both national and local.