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Pennsylvania's New 17th Congressional District Sees Last Minute Changes In Its Democratic Candidates

Virginia Alvino Young/Conor Lamb campaign
90.5 WESA
Democrats Ray Linsenmeyer (left), Beth Tarasi (center) and Conor Lamb (right) will face each other in the May primary ahead of November's election to represent Pennsylvania's newly drawn 17th Congressional District.

Pennsylvania’s congressional hopefuls now have a little more certainty about the May 15 primary election.

The newly drawn congressional district map was upheld after being challenged in court, and the deadline has passed for major party candidates to get on the ballot.

Over the past year, at least eight Democrats have come and gone from the race in Pennsylvania’s newly drawn 17th district, which was once the 12th of Pittsburgh. Candidates are attempting to flip the district and take the seat away from Republican incumbent Keith Rothfus of Sewickley.

Now only three challengers remain.

It used to be a safely held Republican district, stretching from the Ohio border more than a hundred miles east to Johnstown. Now, the 17th is more compact, includes more of Allegheny County, and many say is more blue.

Attorney Beth Tarasi, 58, of Sewickley has been on the campaign trail for nearly a year. She said her experience representing clients including injured workers, has poised her for elected office.

“What I do for a living is I solve problems, and I get things done,” said Tarasi at the office of her firm in downtown Pittsburgh.

She said she’s running because she sees firsthand the challenges the country faces. She cares for her elderly parents who depend on the social safety net, and has grown sons who she said struggle to get health care and find employment.

Tarasi said she’s also concerned about economic development in the 17th. “You see Pittsburgh is progressing and things are happening in Pittsburgh, then you go 15 miles down the road, to Beaver County, and you’re not seeing the same movement.”

Beyond the advantage of campaigning in a more compact geographic area after the map redraw, she said the race has remained the same for her throughout her campaign.

“It’s the same kind of people, same kind of issues,” she said.

Although a lot has been up in the air, Tarasi couldn’t name the biggest challenge that her campaign has faced. “I don’t know,” she said, “I guess I’m just the type of person that accepts challenges.”

And many would call having to face Conor Lamb a challenge. The Democrat accepted a concession Wednesday by Republican Rick Saccone in the special election to represent Pennsylvania’s old 18th district. Because that district south of Pittsburgh no longer exists under the new map, he joined the race in the 17th at the last minute.  

Lamb received national attention during the special election, so when he made the switch, some Democratic candidates made room. Tom Prigg decided to run in a different district. Aaron Anthony dropped out to endorse Lamb, as did Erin McClelland, who has run against Rothfus twice before. Two other candidates dropped out well before Lamb's victory and the filing deadline.

Many are also noting the difference between the old 18th, and the new 17th. The district Lamb won consisted of more rural counties like Greene, Washington, and Fayette. He ran on centrist views on firearms and abortion. Now he’s in the 17th, which has been forecast as a toss-up.  

The other name on the Democratic ballot is Ray Linsenmayer (McCandless).

“This has been such a rollercoaster,” Linsenmayer said, “that you can either focus on what’s happening outside of your race, or you can focus on what’s happening inside of your campaign. And if I spent my time thinking about all the things and the maps and then all the lawsuits, I wouldn’t have any time to do any campaigning.”

The 50 year-old business owner has been working on other peoples’ campaigns for more than a decade. But with a two year old daughter, he said he’s running for office to ensure she grows up in a better world.

His campaign focuses on gun safety, economic development, and job training.

“So one of the things that’s very important to me is to have proactive job training while people are still working to help them with the prerequisites so that they’re a more limber and a more nimble workforce,” he said. “I think being that nimble also makes companies want to move into the area.”

He said he’s happy to face Lamb and Tarasi in this race.     

“A good vibrant primary’s going to make us all better so that when we go after Keith, the person who wins this primary is going to have a great message, and a great organization, and we’ll be able to take the Pennsylvania now 17th away from Keith Rothfus,” Linsenmayer said.