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Casey urges Democrats to rally to Innamorato as Allegheny County executive race tightens

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey.
Patrick Semansky
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey made a stop Friday morning on behalf of Allegheny County Executive candidate Sara Innamorato, exhorting Democrats to rally behind their candidate in what is broadly acknowledged to be a tight race with Republican Joe Rockey.

“The only way that we can ensure that future that all of us want — for our workers, for our families here in Allegheny County, all across our commonwealth and our country — the only way that's possible is by winning,” Casey said.

Casey was in the region to unveil workforce-training and economic redevelopment issues later in the morning. But he first spoke to a couple dozen Democrats at Nicky’s Grant Street, a Downtown diner that has long been a hangout for Democratic politicos. He said that Republicans at every level threaten Democratic progress on a range of issues.

“The only way to beat back those extremes that I see every day in Washington, you see all across our state, is to win — win the election,” Casey said. As for Innamorato, "Her experience, her integrity, her life story prepares her well to be the next county executive. We just got to do the job in the next 18 days … to make sure she's elected.”

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The county executive oversees roughly $3 billion in total spending, and the position is generally regarded as the most powerful local elected office outside of Philadelphia. Still, races at the county level are rarely linked to circumstances in Congress — and Rockey is portraying himself as a moderate and has previously repudiated former President Donald Trump.

But the campaign’s final weeks have increasingly featured issues that extend beyond the county borders. The Rockey campaign has pilloried Innamorato for statements on Israel by the Democratic Socialists of America — to which she previously belonged — while Innamorato has sought to link Rockey to his party’s efforts to roll back abortion rights.

Mayor Ed Gainey, who was also on hand for the event, said it was important to see the race in its larger context, which includes the ability of city and county governments to work on homelessness more closely. The county directs human service funding from state and federal governments, Gainey noted, adding that the region needs “someone that understands exactly what we have to do to address the unhoused.”

Party unity is a crucial concern for Democrats, who have a two-to-one registration advantage in the county but have seen support for Innamorato slip in some quarters.

Within the past week, Rockey has rolled out endorsements from two notable building-trade unions, Steamfitters Local 449 and Plumbers Local 27. They join a number of police unions and the Laborers as supporters.

Leadership of both unions said the Republican had their interests at heart — or as Steamfitters business agent Ken Broadbent said earlier this week in a Rockey campaign statement, “Joe Rockey was the candidate who made it clear that he backs good, union jobs in this region.”

The Steamfitters cited concerns that Innamorato had, as a state representative, voted against a package of tax incentives seeking to encourage the creation of a “hydrogen hub” in the state. The incentives passed overwhelmingly anyway, but last week the White House announced that a coveted federal investment in the alternative energy technology would largely bypass the region.

Asked Friday about those unions leaving the Democratic fold, Innamorato noted she had broad labor support, including from the umbrella Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council.

“The Democratic Party is a big tent, which means there’s space for folks with a wide variety of ideologies,” she said. “But that diversity can be a strength, but we’re betting on that … allowing us to govern in the strongest way possible.”

Democrats say they see Innamorato leading the race in the mid-to-high single digits, and they say they are taking the race seriously but not panicking. Innamorato told the crowd that the race had tightened due to profligate TV ad spending by Rockey and some independent expenditure groups advertising on his behalf.

“When you’re getting outspent 8 to 1, that means one thing: that we are winning,” Innamorato said, arguing that she would prevail, thanks to a “message about helping small businesses and helping to build up affordable housing, protecting voting and reproductive rights.”

The situation in some ways is the reverse of that seen during the spring Democratic primary, when Innamorato enjoyed both financial and logistical advantages over her rivals.

Groups such as the Working Families Party, which spent six-digit sums on Innamorato in that season, have been largely quiet to date. But Joe Dinkin, the WFP’s national campaign director, said that would change.

“We're going to be participating in the race” soon, he said. “We're big supporters of Sara, obviously, and voters can expect to hear from us in the mail.”

It’s a sign that Democrats are firming up the ranks in a bid to control the state’s second-largest county. And that the goal, as Casey said to Innamorato with a smile on the way out the door, is to “just win."

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.