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Williams Gets Obama Endorsement In Her State Senate Race

Gene J. Puskar
President Barack Obama addresses the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in July 2015.

Democrat Lindsey Williams is running for state Senate – an office that, in an ordinary year, would generate little more than local interest. But this is 2018, a time when Democrats are investing unprecedented energy in the midterm elections, and Williams just got the backing of a former President of the United States.

Barack Obama included her candidacy in the 38th District – which includes North Hills suburbs and a chunk of Pittsburgh’s East End – on a list of over 250 candidates he endorsed Monday.

“As soon as I saw it, I ran and called my parents,” Williams said. “It’s not every day that that happens, and it’s quite an honor that President Obama showed that faith in me and in our team. It shows a lot of energy in this district, and I’m looking forward to the next 36 days.”

Williams’ name appeared on a list of endorsed candidates from 29 states, running for offices ranging from the U.S. Senate to the state legislature. In announcing the endorsements via Twitter, Obama hailed them for running “to expand opportunity for all of us and to restore dignity, honor, and compassion to public service.”

Obama has gradually been increasing his public profile as the November election nears, portraying the midterms as an existential moment for Democrats and democracy itself. This is the second round of endorsements that Obama has released; he disclosed an initial set of over 80 candidates in August. So far, Williams appears to be the only candidate in Western Pennsylvania, at any level, to have garnered his backing.

“President Obama has stated a commitment to helping candidates up and down the ballot,” Williams said. “I think he’s shown that he wants to make sure Democrats are successful.”

Williams is competing against Republican Jeremy Shaffer in a district that would ordinarily tilt toward the GOP. Shaffer pulled off an impressive coup during the May primary by beating incumbent Randy Vulakovich, who had been backed by much of his own party’s establishment.

Williams said Obama narrowly lost the Senate district in 2012, and as of Monday afternoon it was too soon to tell whether the endorsement would spark additional campaign contributions or other momentum. She is up against an opponent who has invested $435,000 of his own money into the race so far, and had backing from conservative groups like the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania.

But Democrats are optimistic about their prospects in suburban communities like the 38th, and Williams said the high-profile backing of a former President “helps with exposure. Especially in these state House and state Senate races, there’s a lot of noise going on and it’s hard to break through.  So I think it brings attention and an extra piece of validity to me that somebody like President Obama would support me, and I hope people will listen to that.”

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.
WESA will be surveying Pennsylvania candidates for federal and state office for the 2022 general election — tell us which issues are most important to you.