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Is PA-17 in Play in 2024?

Chris Deluzio, Rob Mercuri

How important is Pennsylvania?

The Keystone State’s electoral votes could very well decide the next occupant of the White House.

The Commonwealth’s Senate race between Democrat Bob Casey Jr. and Republican Dave McCormick may decide the balance of power in the Senate.

And with the GOP holding a slender 221-213 (1 vacant seat) in the House, the traditional PA battlegrounds will once again play a factor in control of the lower chamber.

Typically, outsiders look to PA-01, PA-07 and PA-08 as the state’s “swing” seats. However, looking at the recent results from Allegheny County’s election for county executive and district attorney, could we add PA-17 to the mix?

Rep. Chris Deluzio won the seat in 2022, defeating GOP candidate Jeremy Shaffer by six points, and has approximately $700,000 on hand as of the end of September to defend the seat. He captured Allegheny County by 12 points (56-44) and more than 36,000 votes to offset Shaffer’s advantage in Beaver County of 12,000 votes and 16 percentage points (58-42).

Progressive Democrat Sara Innamorato captured the Allegheny County Executive seat, edging Republican challenger Joe Rockey by 9,500 votes or 2.5 percentage points.

Rockey, a former banking executive with PNC, ran on a more moderate platform and raised more than $1.6 million for his campaign – more than $1 million for Innamorato. Her history with the Democratic Socialists of America also took a toll, especially after the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel. The local chapter of the DSA issued a statement criticizing long-standing Israeli policy towards Palestinians without mentioning the attack. Innamorato, a former member of the group, repudiated the statement and said she’d withdrawn from the group four years ago — a move that aggravated some in her progressive base.

Incumbent Stephen Zappala was the winner in the contest for Allegheny County District Attorney, defeating Democrat Matt Dugan in a rematch of the May primary by nearly three points. Dugan had won the Democratic nomination from Zappala by 19,000 votes and more than 11 percentage points. But the 66-year-old DA received the most write-in votes on the GOP side, winning its nomination to set up the rematch.

Zappala was able to convince a bloc of moderate Democrats, Republicans, and independents to stick with him — while turning their back on Dugan, considered a more progressive prosecutor in the mold of Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner.

What does the election of Innamorato and Zappala mean for PA-17? Let’s look at the numbers.

While the 17th Congressional District includes parts of Allegheny County, it also comprises all of Beaver County. Democrats hold a 51-34 voter registration advantage in Allegheny, it is a 50-50 split in Beaver. But four of every five votes in PA-17 reside in Allegheny County.

Yes, Democrats won the ACE and DA races. But let’s take a closer look at the vote totals in each race.

Innamorato won overall by 2.5 points, but trailed Rockey in PA-17 by 13 votes and nearly seven points. And Zappala’s three-point win was an 11.4-point triumph (22,000 votes) among PA-17 voters.

What does this mean for possible PA-17 challenger Rep. Rob Mercuri (R-Allegheny)? Can this be read as a rejection of progressive politics by voters in the 17th? Are these danger signs for the reelection bid by Deluzio? Could McCormick, perceived by many as a more moderate Republican, make gains in the western portion of PA? And if the District is more competitive, could that cut into a margin needed by the Biden campaign to offset the Republican advantage in the “T” of the state?

Chris Nicholas, a Harrisburg-based Republican strategist, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the election results, “showed that once you get outside the Democratic primary, there was not an appetite in the county for that type of left-wing, George Soros, Larry Krasner-type of approach to law enforcement. And look, it’s no wonder: Pittsburgh is just culturally a more conservative part of the state.”

Remember the old adage – figure don’t lie, but liars can figure. Although the voter turnout of 41.38% in Allegheny County was high, it does not compare to the turnout seen in presidential years.

Republicans do see opportunities not only in PA-17, but also in PA-12, presently held by Rep. Summer Lee (D-12).

Time will tell if the GOP can make inroads.

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