Pundits say the 75 Democrats who gathered in this Washington, Pa. library basement last weekend have a tough road ahead in the newly drawn 14th District.
After all, it includes Washington and three other decidedly Republican-friendly counties: Fayette, Greene and parts of Westmoreland.
Even so, four Democrats are running in the May 15 primary, seeking to be the party's nominee by attending similar events throughout the district. And Washington County Commissioner Larry Maggi says the glow from Conor Lamb's victorious special-election campaign, which covered much of the same territory, hasn't worn off.
“I’ve been coming around to these things for the last 15 to 20 years, I’ve never seen a more energized group,” he says. “They’re ready to get out there and start working again.”
There have been few policy clashes between the candidates: Bibiana Boerio, Tom Prigg, Adam Sedlock and Bob Solomon. Solomon and Prigg are arguably further to the left, but the sharpest distinctions may lie in the candidates’ biographies, and in the political geography
Boerio has the most varied resume, having served as an executive with Ford Motors, and later with its British affiliate Jaguar. She also served as chief of staff to Joe Sestak, a former Pennsylvania congressman and two-time Senate candidate. But she says she hasn’t forgotten her Westmoreland County union roots.
“I might once have been a senior executive, but I started out as a UAW member’s daughter,” she says. “You have to be able to deal with people from different backgrounds, and you have to solve complex problems.”
Until recently, brain researcher Tom Prigg lived in the North Hills – where he was a candidate in another congressional district. But once the new lines were drawn, he rented an apartment in Canonsburg. Along with the fact that he is the lone veteran on the Democratic ballot, he touts his own local ties.
“I come from real rural poverty,” he says. “I was born and raised in Washington County. I understand what it means to be left behind and to have politicians not passing any policies that affect my family in a positive way.”
Psychologist Adam Sedlock hails from Fayette County, which was tacked onto the district in the new map. He argues that he’s the Democrat best positioned to appeal to those votes, and that he’s got the real hometown advantage.
“I am the only candidate born, raised, educated and working and never left the (14th District)." What’s more, he adds, “psychologists are people experts. We can go to any issue in Congress and take a leadership role.”
Emergency-room physician Bob Solomon, who lives just outside the new district but is eligible to run in it, said he's seen its residents "on their worst days" and says single-payer health care is the policy prescription they need.
“I have more than three decades of practice experience on the front lines of health care delivery and nearly as much time spent studying health policy. That combination is very much needed and right now it doesn’t exist on Capitol Hill.”
Whoever wins the primary still must face either Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone or state Sen. Guy Reschenthaler in November. Democratic political consultant Mike Mikus says winning is possible, but it’s far from assured.
He says the new 14th District is “not a district that should be written off by any means, but it’s a challenge, and the only way you can compete is raise a significant amount of money.”
In 2016, Donald Trump won the communities in this district by 29 points. That's a much bigger margin than Conor Lamb faced last month, because he was able to rely on Democratic-friendly suburbs that aren't part of the new district.
Mikus estimates that to attract national Democratic attention, a viable candidate will need $500,000 by the time of the primary. Currently, none of the four candidates report having more than $10,000 on hand.