Allegheny County councilor Sam DeMarco, the top Republican elected official in Allegheny County, is the county party's new chair after a Saturday morning vote in a Greentree hotel. He beat his rival, committee treasurer Bronco Brnardic, 213 to 157.
“The status quo is going to change,” said DeMarco shortly after being named the new chair of the Republican Committee of Allegheny County. “I ran for this seat because what was happening was unacceptable. The sole mission of the county party is to field candidates for local office, and we have been a dismal failure. That needed to stop.”
Democrats control Allegheny County, where their voters outnumber Republicans by two-to-one. But DeMarco notes that much of that is driven by solidly Democratic Pittsburgh – and even there “I talk to a tremendous number of people – firefighters, police – who are registered that way for their jobs. But it’s not how they vote. And as [Democrats] are going every further to the left, we can pick up a lot of those votes.”
The party’s previous chair, Mt. Lebanon businessman D. Raja, stepped down as party frustrations reached a boiling point earlier this year. Partly that was due to Raja’s own loss to Democrat Pam Iovino in a state Senate special election this spring, but it also stemmed from concerns that the party had simply failed to field a slate. Of the four countywide offices on the ballot this fall – county executive, District Attorney, Treasurer, and Controller – Republicans have a champion only in two races: Matt Drozd is a long-shot challenger for county execuitve, while Brooke Nadonley earned a spot on the ballot through an election-day write-in effort.
“We wonder why Republicans don’t come out?” DeMarco said. “It’s because we haven’t given them candidates.”
DeMarco was first elected to Allegheny County Council’s “at large” Republican seat in 2015. The North Fayette resident and Marine Corps veteran has been a fixture of Republican party gatherings, and serves on the party’s state committee. He’s decidedly conservative and has a close relationship with groups like Firearm Owners Against Crime, but has also shown a pragmatic approach to working with Democratic Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.
DeMarco was by most accounts the frontrunner going into today’s contest: He was the top vote getter in an earlier round of voting this month, though no candidate got an outright majority. His efforts got a boost from endorsements by Congressman Guy Rescenthaler and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner, who wrote to committeepeople that DeMarco “can step up fundraising, expand services to candidates, and never ever again let so many positions for local office go wanting."
DeMarco inherits a party that has suffered a series of stinging setbacks. Last year, Allegheny County delivered a special election victory to Conor Lamb in a Congressional district once held by Republican Tim Murphy: Lamb defeated Republican Keith Rothfus in a newly drawn Congressional district later that year. After Raja’s special-election lost and another defeat last fall, Allegheny County Republicans now find themselves with no representation in the upper chamber of the state legislature.
Many of those setbacks took place in college-educated suburbs where even some traditionally conservative voters have shied away from Donald Trump – a trend which could bode ill for his election prospects. DeMarco says he plans to shore up support in those areas by focusing on the essentials.
“People get upset about something said in a rally or in a tweet. But I don’t worry about what someone says – I worry about what they do to affect me and my family’s ability to pay the bills. And if you look at unemployment rates and the economy – [Trump’s] policies are working.”
"If Donald Trump is going to win next year, he needs Pennsylvania. And that goes through Allegheny County," DeMarco said, noting that the county's 264,000 Republicans are the largest concentration of GOP voters in the state. "We need a committee that is active, committed, and out there turning out the vote for Donald Trump.”