Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district contains most of the city of Pittsburgh and some of the primarily working class suburbs south and east of the city. The PVI is a solid D+13 and Trump won just 34.4% last year, lower even than in 2016, before the district was redrawn by the state Supreme Court and made significantly less blue! In other words, this is a safe blue district and when longtime Democrat Mike Doyle-- a Republican who became a conservative Democrat who eventually became more of an establishment garden variety Dem-- announced yesterday he's finally retiring, after 27 years as a backbencher, it opened up an opportunity to add a real progressive champion for working class families to Congress. Congress doesn't need another careerist and getting this right could have real impact many years to come.
Last cycle, the Republicans ran Luke Negron and he did even worse than Trump-- just 30.8% of the vote. It sounds like he may be running again. The other anti-Doyle candidate who contested the 2020 election was a tattoo artist named Don Nevills who ran as an independent write-in candidate on an anti-Choice, anti-immigrant, anti-pandemic mandates, anti-public education, anti-socialism, pro-military industrial complex, pro-gun-nuttery platform. PA-18 voters weren't buying it; he didn't get a single vote. This time he's filed to run as a Republican.
So far two Democrats have filed, constitutional law professor Jerry Dickinson, who was already primarying Doyle, and-- as of this morning-- state Rep. Summer Lee. Both are running on strong progressive platforms. Lee didn't put her campaign together overnight and was very prepared to jump into the race today, backed by Justice Democrats. The group e-mailed its supporters to tell them that "Summer made history in 2018 when she unseated a 20-year incumbent in the State House to become the first Black woman to represent Southwestern Pennsylvania in the state legislature. Now, she’s running to make history once again as the first Black woman to ever be elected to Congress in Pennsylvania. Since her time in office, she has led state-level efforts to reform policing and end police brutality, delivered millions of dollars to her community for infrastructure upgrades and community revitalization, championed initiatives that support sustainable jobs, environmental responsibility, and gender and racial equity-- including sponsoring over 70 bills since she was elected. Summer is running to bring an end to reliance on fossil fuels that have poisoned her district’s air and water, strengthen the labor movement to bring union jobs back to Alleghany County, and fix our unjust criminal legal system."
She had all her ducks in a row-- including a good mailing list, printed signs, an excellent campaign video and an ActBlue account ready to go (which takes, including the FEC paperwork, around a week to set up) and a ready endorsement from for state legislative collegeague now-Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey. She also had her story ready to go:
I was raised by a single mother who worked multiple jobs to keep our family afloat. I know what it’s like for a young family to struggle to get by in a tough economy.
Growing up in North Braddock, the air was thick with pollution from the Mon Valley steel mills. My neighbors and I have seen firsthand how corporations will choose their own wealth over our health, and put profits over people-- forcing communities like mine to rely on jobs that make us sick while making us believe we had no other choice.
When I went to college-- like many kids from my neighborhood-- I didn’t have extra money to afford my tuition. Instead, I took on student debt that I still carry to this day. It’s affected every decision I’ve made since.
After law school, I came home and led the successful campaign to unseat local school board members who failed to address repeated incidents of police and faculty violence against students at my old high school. I realized my community was being left behind by the politicians we elected. So I decided to stand up for my community and run for State Representative, winning with nearly 70% of the vote against a 20-year incumbent.
My lived experience growing up here is exactly why I’m running for Congress now. Politicians always talk about how they’re for families like mine. But they don’t act with the urgency that our crises demand-- because change doesn’t have to be today when you don’t live in the struggles of today.
We need elected officials who don’t just talk the talk. We need ones who’ll fight the fight-- for environmental justice, union jobs, and racial equity.
It won’t be easy, and we won’t be successful overnight. But if we build a big grassroots movement that reaches every corner of our district and beyond, I know we can finally win on key priorities like a Green New Deal, a living wage, Medicare for All, and justice reform.
With our current congressman retiring, this is a wide open primary. We know we will need a lot of resources to run a competitive campaign. But I intend to run this campaign the grassroots way, without taking a dime from corporate PACs.
This is looking like a real race to me... and between two compelling candidates. Dickinson has raised some good money already and earned some significant local endorsements. Lee's launch today has been pretty spectacular. I hope to talk with both candidates.