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    Socialist congresswoman faces tough fight in Pennsylvania

    By Salena Zito,


    PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America is seeing its power decline. The group has had its grip on Western Pennsylvania Democratic politics for several years, but Tuesday night, it failed in an attempt to force Allegheny County Council to adopt a resolution to call for a ceasefire in Gaza .

    The decline in the group’s influence ultimately could weaken one of the DSA’s first successes, Rep. Summer Lee (D-PA), as the first-term congresswoman competes in a Democratic primary race with entrepreneur and local councilwoman Bhavini Patel in May. Lee barely won in the 2022 Democratic primary.

    Despite flooding the council meeting with well over 150 highly charged people to speak in favor of the ceasefire resolution, the council voted 9-3 to oppose the resolution, with two members abstaining.

    The loss of persuasion comes several months after two DSA candidates in Allegheny County Council races and progressive district attorney candidate Matt Dugan, who was almost exclusively funded by George Soros, lost.

    And in another near-disaster for the socialists, Sara Innamorato’s shockingly narrow win over Republican Joe Rocky for county executive, for a seat Republicans hadn’t come close to winning in nearly 25 years, was also a tell-tale sign that voters had grown weary of a movement even further left than most progressive Democrats in the region.

    Six years ago, Pittsburgh’s chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America was on the rise on the heels of ushering into state office two left-wing community activists, Lee and Innamorato, both then active in the organization.

    At the time, Lee and Innamorato had shocked the Democratic establishment by defeating two long-term and well-liked Democratic incumbents in a low-turnout primary election — and immediately their purist approach to socialist causes pushed the traditionally pragmatic Western Pennsylvania political party leftward for the next few cycles.

    The DSA’s rise to power was enabled by the vocally pro-social justice Service Employees International Union, and within short order, they picked off several more seats, two on the county council and the Pittsburgh mayorship.

    Lee’s narrow win in 2022, when she earned only 41.9% of the vote in the city-centric 12th Congressional District, just 1,008 more votes than Democrat Steve Irwin’s 41% (with University of Pittsburgh School of Law professor Jerry Dickinson earning approximately 11%), was the first real signal the movement was fading.

    One local Democratic strategist, who has worked on statewide and regional campaigns but said he could speak freely only on condition of anonymity, said the problem with the far-left wing of his party is it hasn't shown an ability to govern.

    He said there is a myth that it had this great strength within the Democratic Party in places such as Allegheny County because members won numerous low-turnout primaries.

    “The truth is, whenever a turnout increases during presidential years, they tend to not do well,” he said, adding, “All you have to do is look at how Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton did against Bernie Sanders in this region when turnout is high."

    Both Clinton and Biden defeated Sanders handily in Allegheny County during the primary contests in 2016 and 2020.

    “So the progressive wing, when they ironically talk about empowering people, tend to do best when fewer people show up to vote,” he said.

    He added that all of these signs of decline have the potential to lift up Patel’s potential to make it a real race against Lee come May.

    “The big question mark is that you don't have a competitive Democratic presidential primary, but it could impact,” he said. "I think there are a number of Democrats who consider themselves progressive, they are just not on the fringe."

    Patel is a solid candidate for the Democrats for this seat, which had been held by Democrat Mike Doyle for four decades. Born and raised in the Allegheny County suburb of Monroeville, she worked as a community outreach manager for the county and currently sits on the Edgewood Borough council.

    A natural retail politician, Patel has spent countless hours knocking on doors and introducing herself to voters.

    The resolution loss came the same week that the third candidate in the primary race for Lee’s congressional seat, Laurie MacDonald, withdrew from the Democratic contest — making it a one-on-one race with Patel.

    It also came the same week it was revealed that the anonymous person behind the 'Dear White Staffers' Instagram account, which was originally intended as a vehicle to highlight the challenges of minority staffers on Capitol Hill only to become an anti-Israel screed, was a staffer for Lee.


    The strategist said it is interesting to watch the classic progressive movement reassert itself back into the Democratic Party.

    “There has been a growing rejection within the local Democratic Party of the all-or-nothing wing of the party," he said. "The us-versus-them mentality of those on the far Left cannot govern, and I think everyone will be watching how that plays out for Summer Lee come May.”

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