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Polling data suggest wide-open Allegheny County executive race

90.5 WESA

Polling data conducted over the last month suggest that as the Democratic primary race for Allegheny County Executive has been getting underway in earnest, the contest is wide open, with County Treasurer John Weinstein and City Controller Michael Lamb in a pitched battle for the lead, and state Rep. Sara Innamorato in third.

And at least one survey suggests — among Democrats, at least — concerns about crime and the economy haven’t dented the popularity of outgoing county executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Polling results can be hard to come by in local contests, but campaigns have conducted their own surveys, and a survey by Pittsburgh Works Together, a consortium of local businesses and building-trade labor groups, suggests the outcome of the May 16 Democratic primary is very much up for grabs.

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The organization commissioned a poll of 459 Democratic primary voters in early March and found if the election had been held then, 28 percent of Democrats would have backed Weinstein, with 24 percent in support of Lamb — a gap just within the poll’s 4 percentage point margin of error. Innamorato was third, with the support of 17 percent of Democrats.

But more than a quarter of Democrats, 26 percent, said they were undecided at the time.

Four other Democrats who were polled, including two who have since withdrawn, were backed by less than 2 percent of voters.

Jeff Nobers, the executive director of Pittsburgh Works, did not respond to a query about the poll, findings of which were obtained by WESA.

But the survey, conducted by Virginia-based Public Opinion Strategies, does provide a snapshot of Democratic voters as the campaign was taking shape. The poll was wrapping up just as key endorsements from area labor groups and the Allegheny County Democratic Committee were being decided, and before a number of media reports raising questions about Weinstein’s conduct were published.

Democratic insiders say the numbers track with other internal polls taken in March. Those surveys have shown Weinstein either holding a razor-thin lead over Lamb or the two men within the margin of error, while Innamorato has been in a solid third place.

The data suggests an early challenge for Innamorato has been overcoming a lack of name recognition. A comparative newcomer serving her third term in the state House, she was familiar to just under half of Democrats polled when the Pittsburgh Works Together poll came out.

Roughly three-quarters of voters had heard of both Weinstein and Lamb — both of whom have been in politics for more than two decades — and roughly half of voters saw each man favorably.

All that is subject to change, though. “We know that when voters hear about Sara and her vision to build a County for All that they support her," said Kacy McGill, a spokesperson for the Innamorato campaign.

Weinstein first launched a TV ad campaign in late February, and had the airwaves to himself almost all last month. Fawcett launched a spot late in monthtouting his courtroom battles, and followed with a second. Innamorato and Lamb have since gone on-air with introductory spots of their own.

The Pittsburgh Works Together survey suggests Democrats are open to progressive ideas. While crime and public safety was voted the top priority on which Democrats said they wanted a county executive to focus, gun control was just behind, followed by climate change and the environment, and a desire for economic and racial justice.

But there were also signs Democrats would be happy to continue the current status quo. Nearly three-quarters — 73 percent — said they approved of Rich Fitzgerald’s job performance.

The winner of the Democratic primary will almost certainly face Republican Joe Rockey, the only GOP contender in the race, this fall. Each of the top three Democrats outpolls him by margins of three- or four-to-one — hardly surprising in a heavily Democratic county where not even one in 10 voters of either party said they had heard of Rockey.

Updated: April 11, 2023 at 8:30 PM EDT
This story was updated at 8:29 p.m. on April 11, 2023 to include information about Dave Fawcett's advertising and a statement from the Innamorato campaign.
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.