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Allegheny County Republican chair DeMarco to run for Congress in 17th District

Allegheny County Councilor and Republican Party Chair Sam DeMarco.
Jared Murphy
90.5 WESA
Allegheny County Councilor and Republican Party Chair Sam DeMarco.

Sam DeMarco, the top Republican official in Allegheny County, has officially filed paperwork to run for Congress in Democrat Conor Lamb’s old district.

“I’ve served my country as a Marine, my county as a county councilman for the last 7 years, and my party as the county chair and I have served my community” on a number of civic boards, said DeMarco on Tuesday. “It would be my honor to serve the constituents of the 17th district as their representative in Congress. There is nowhere where leadership is more in demand than in Washington D.C.”

Lamb is not running for reelection in the district, since he’s running for Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat. “It’s an open position, the people of the 17th district will be hiring, and I have to apply,” DeMarco said.

DeMarco, who chairs the Republican Committee of Allegheny County, has served on Allegheny County Council since 2015. In that role, he oversees elections in Allegheny County as a member of the three-person Board of Elections.

DeMarco will be obliged to step down from both those positions. A “resign to run” rule that applies to county legislators requires candidates to step down before seeking other office. Citing a years-old legal argument by council's solicitor, DeMarco can remain on council until March 23rd, the last day state allows for candidates to withdraw their Congressional bids.

The county Board of Elections, meanwhile, is governed directly by state law. At a Tuesday meeting of the board, solicitor Allan Opsitnick said DeMarco would have to step down from that post when he filed his petitions for Congress. The deadline for doing so is March 15.

The race for the 17th District, which includes Beaver County and much of suburban Allegheny County, has drawn a number of interested Republicans, including conservative writer and columnist Jason Killmeyer and former Ross Commissioner Jeremy Shaffer, who lost a 2018 state Senate race to Democrat Lindsey Williams.

DeMarco said that “party leaders and other folks reached out to me in the middle of last week, concerned that some of the folks that were running might not be able to win, as the district has shifted from [Republican-leaning] to a toss-up” after new Congressional District lines were chosen by the state Supreme Court.

DeMarco, who as county chair has been a warrior for his party, may sound like an unlikely candidate for a swing district. And he acknowledges that “Folks may look to me as having been a Republican Party chair, and putting up Republican candidates.” And in fact he said Republican voters know that while “all candidates tell people they are going to fight for them, I’ve been in the fight for years.”

But he touted a record on county council in which “I govern in a bipartisan fashion on economic initiatives.”

DeMarco has generally been supportive of economic development efforts by county executive Rich Fitzgerald, though he has frequently opposed efforts by progressives on county council.

On the Board of Elections, DeMarco did vote against the certification of the county’s general election results, he said over concerns involving mail-in ballots. (In that meeting, the board voted 2-1 to certify the vast majority of ballots, but held off on certifying roughly 3,300 mail ballots that were being challenged in court. After the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said those ballots should be counted, the board reconvened to certify those results separately.) But he has often spoken warmly of county election workers, and took a cautious tack after a snafu involving duplicate ballots being sent to some voters that year.

Election workers “really have it down pat,” DeMarco said following the certification of the 2021 general election results last fall. “Allegheny County did a great job, and I got this feedback from folks throughout the state.”

The newly drawn district Demarco has filed paperwork to run in has similar boundaries to the moderate district Democrat Conor Lamb has represented since 2018. It includes Allegheny County suburbs and Beaver County. Lamb beat Republican candidate Sean Parnell by 2.3 percentage points in 2020.

Democratic candidates include Chris Deluzio, a voting rights lawyer, and Democratic organizer and LGBT advocate Sean Meloy, who have both outraised the Republican candidates in the race so far. Neither Democrat lives in the newly drawn district, though residency is not a requirement to run.

This story was updated at 2:51 p.m. on March 8, 2022 to add information about the timetable for DeMarco to step down from his county Board of Elections position.

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.