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Eugene DePasquale wins 5-way Democratic primary, to face GOP's Dave Sunday in attorney general race

Dave Sunday (left) earned the Republican nomination for attorney general; Eugene DePasquale (right) won the Democratic bid.
Courtesy campaigns
Dave Sunday (left) earned the Republican nomination for attorney general; Eugene DePasquale (right) won the Democratic bid.

Pittsburgh native Eugene DePasquale was the winner in a five-way Democratic race Tuesday for the party’s Attorney General nomination.

In a Democratic primary with a ballot otherwise dominated by names from the eastern part of the state — starting with Scranton native Joe Biden — DePasquale stood out as one of just two Allegheny County candidates running statewide. Geography seemed to aid him Tuesday, as unofficial results show him carrying western and central Pennsylvania.

“It [geography] certainly was a factor, but I think more importantly, [it] was my record as auditor general,” he said.

He'll run against York County Republican Dave Sunday in the November general election.

In remarks to supporters Tuesday night, DePasquale referenced his history as the son of a Vietnam veteran who later struggled with mental health and substance abuse and became an incarcerated felon.

"Look, you don't want that to happen to anybody, but it does prepare you for a life of challenge, a life of struggle," he said. "And I'd like to believe that that struggle is what's going to prepare me for the next step. See, I've seen both sides of the criminal justice system. Not many people can do that. "

That experience and other struggles will prepare him for the tough November election, DePasquale said.

“I have had a life of knowing what it's like to get knocked down. Spoiler alert here: I was not the biggest guy on the football field,” he said to laughter from the crowd.

In a speech to supporters gathered at the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers headquarters in Pittsburgh’s South Side, he also hit on themes of pledging to protect democracy, supporting abortion rights, and fighting for working people, if elected this fall.

“It’s not only about protecting our democracy but making sure our democracy works for everyone,” he said.

The AG serves as the state’s top law enforcement official and sits on a state pardons board. The office handles only a small set of criminal cases, but it defends the commonwealth in court while handling consumer protection and other cases.

"He's done a great job, [he's] a great guy," said former state Rep. Ted Harhai of Westmoreland County, who attended DePasquale's victory celebration in Pittsburgh. Harhai said he served in the state House with DePasquale and that DePasquale "helped [him] with a number of issues" as auditor general.

"He's very matter-of-fact [and] got to the root of the problems," Harhai said. "He's easy to support."

DePasquale’s gathering Tuesday evening drew a mix of youthful college Democrats, union officials, family, and longtime family friends.

“I find Eugene to be what the ideal of a politician should be,” said Patrick O’Toole, who was at DePasquale’s party. “A guy that worries about the issues, is honest, is unimpeachable as far as non-corruptible, and really focused on what's important for folks.”

Since Josh Shapiro left the post to become the state’s governor last year, the job has been held by a caretaker, Michelle Henry. (Henry pledged not to run for the seat, in keeping with a longstanding tradition in state government.) Five Democrats and two Republicans sought the post.

A Pittsburgh native from a political family, DePasquale returned to the area to teach at the University of Pittsburgh. Prior to that, he lived in York, where he served as a state representative, two terms as state Auditor General, and, later, as an unsuccessful challenger to Trump-aligned Republican Congressman Scott Perry. In remarks to his supporters Tuesday night, he thanked voters from both cities, saying they would always be home to him.

He’d been openly pondering a run for more than a year, but the field of hopefuls for the office was crowded and included:

  • Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, who previously worked in the state Treasurer’s office and as an assistant U.S. Attorney, and who came in second in the primary race
  • Joe Khan, a Bucks County who has previously worked as a county solicitor, assistant U.S. Attorney and county prosecutor 
  • Keir Bradford Gray, of Philadelphia, the only public defender seeking the seat in either party 
  • State Rep. Jared Solomon of Philadelphia, whose background in law includes work as a judge advocate general in the U.S. Army Reserve. He finished fifth in the primary race.

Each of the candidates drew upon political strengths: Solomon and Stollsteimer were top fundraisers who also attracted union support, for example, while Bradford Gray had been backed by progressive groups that included the Working Families Party.
DePasquale drew backing from elected officials and local Democratic committees, but alongside his name on the ballot appeared the name of Allegheny County — long regarded as a potential advantage in a race where candidates stood to divide up vote-rich southeastern Pennsylvania between them.

On the Republican side, York County prosecutor Sunday had the backing of the GOP establishment over his unsuccessful opponent, state Rep. Craig Williams of Delaware County.

The race for attorney general is likely to be hotly contested and could have national implications: Shapiro’s 2016 win put him in a position to challenge President Donald Trump on a number of initiatives. And Shapiro isn’t the only AG to move on to even loftier positions: Republican Tom Corbett also followed up his stint in the office by being elected governor.

Kate Giammarise focuses her reporting on poverty, social services and affordable housing. Before joining WESA, she covered those topics for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for nearly five years; prior to that, she spent several years in the paper’s Harrisburg bureau covering the legislature, governor and state government. She can be reached at or 412-697-2953.
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.