An Erie County Democrat officially launched her run for Congress against Republican Mike Kelly Thursday night. Kristy Gnibus is a high school teacher and single mother who says that Kelly, a five-term incumbent, has lost touch with the district.
“He only does telephone town halls,” she said during an interview shortly before a kick-off event in Erie. Kelly has said such town halls help him connect with voters all across the sprawling district, but activists have hounded him and other Republicans to meet their constituents face-to-face.
“He does not allow for questions or concerns in person because it puts him in a vulnerable position," Gnibus said, "but that’s what a representative does.”
Gnibus is a survivor of ovarian cancer who has relied on programs like Medicaid. She says she'll distinguish herself from Kelly by defending affordable health care and protections for pre-existing conditions. She also said that, as a teacher who has participated in active-shooter drills in school, advancing gun-control legislation – like red-flag laws that allow a court to confiscate guns from those who present a threat to themselves or others -- would be a priority.
“It’s something that’s important, and I think we really need to figure out how we’re going to enforce universal background checks and red-flag laws and make sure guns are in the hands of true law-abiding citizens.”
Pennsylvania’s 16th Congressional District stretches from Erie through Lawrence, Crawford, Mercer counties, and into portions of Butler County. Democrats covet the seat, especially since the state Supreme Court redrew the Congressional District map in a way that improved their chances. One national Democratic group has already targeted Kelly with ads.
But Kelly, of Butler, is a staunch supporter of Donald Trump in a district where even Erie County – long a Democratic bastion – supported Trump in 2016. In 2018, he faced a spirited challenge from Erie lawyer Ron DiNicola, but still won the race by a margin of 4 percentage points.
Butler County Democrat Daniel Smith, who has previously challenged state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, has also declared his interest in the seat. Democrats had hoped to recruit Erie state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro to take on Kelly, but according to the Erie Times-News, he has decided against a run.