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Erie Teacher Hopes To Topple Trump Ally In PA 16

Keith Srakocic | AP (left) / Krist Gnibus campaign (right)
U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly faces Democratic challenger Kristy Gnibus in Pennsylvania's 16th Congressional District.

One of President Donald Trump's staunchest supporters is U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, who has represented northwest Pennsylvania for the decade. This year, he’s being challenged by first-time candidate Democrat Kristy Gnibus.

She's a high school teacher who lives in Erie, and an ovarian cancer survivor.  Gnibus’ experience with the U.S. health care system shaped her support as a candidate for affordable health care through the Affordable Care Act.

“Somebody that has lived experience can show up for you,” Gnibus said. “Somebody who has to choose between groceries and paying a bill. Somebody who knows the struggles of  western Pennsylvania.”

Kelly, who owns car dealerships and was first elected in 2010, has said he wants to replace the ACA, but he hasn't identified a way to do so and protect people with preexisting conditions. He declined to speak for this story.

Kelly has repeatedly joined Trump at rallies, but Gnibus believes he should focus more on his constituents.

“He talks about Trump and what he thinks is so great about him and what ]Trump’s] done but he doesn't really speak so much about what he has done for us,” Gnibus said. “He's been in office for 10 years and he should be able to give us a good list of things and sadly there's not much there.”

Aside from headlining Pennsylvania rallies with Trump, Kelly made news in recent months when he announced he had COVID-19 -- he has since recovered. The congressman also made waves in 2019 when he asserted that he was a person of color because he’s white.

Allegheny College Political science professor Andrew Bloeser outlined the challenging path for a Democratic victory in the district, but noted that Gnibus has an advantage as a candidate from the City of Erie.

“Erie County voters make up 42 percent of the district’s overall registered voters,”  Bloeser said, noting that while the city has traditionally been a Democratic stronghold, it has shifted to the right in recent years. “[Gnibus] will have to have a really strong showing in the City of Erie and Erie County.”

Trump won Erie County by less than 2000 votes in 2016. As you travel south through Crawford, Lawrence, and Mercer Counties, voter demographics shift sharply to the right.