Democrats have a real chance of taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives in November. But there are still plenty of areas where Republicans are favored, including Pennsylvania’s 14th Congressional district.
The district includes Washington, Fayette, Greene and much of Westmoreland county. The candidates: Democrat Bibiana Boerio and Republican Guy Reschenthaler.
Boerio is among an unprecedented number of women on the ballot nationwide this year. But she’s never run for office before.
“I concluded that I would forever regret it if I didn’t give it a run,” said Boerio, “Because I knew how important it was going to be in this election that we fought every race.”
Boerio grew up in Latrobe. Her dad was a member of the United Auto Workers union and she went on to be an executive at Ford motor company. After that she became managing director at the British car maker Jaguar. Boerio later served as Chief of Staff to Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak.
“But I like to tell people that even though I kinda made it to that top executive level, I don’t look like your typical corporate executive and I never forgot where I came from,” she said.
She moved back to Latrobe a few years ago to take care of her mother, who had a heart attack.
Her mom previously had breast cancer, and so did two of Boerio’s sisters. She says that family history made health care her number-one issue. She criticizes Republican attempts to dismantle former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.
“How many pillars of health care can you pull out before it comes tumbling down?” Boerio said.
She also supports the expansion of Medicaid, a program that benefits lower-income households, under the ACA.
“I also believe the healthcare expansion has been so important in helping to start to tackle opioid addiction, that I worry about someone who wants to go for the perfect instead of making the good better.”
Boerio handily won a four-way Democratic primary in May. Her opponent this November, Republican state Senator Guy Reschenthaler, takes a different view. He says he would vote to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act if he won the race.
“We have the premier health care system in the world in the United States,” said Reschenthaler. “But we need to keep our advantage.”
The two candidates have had very different careers. This would be Reschenthaler’s third elected office, and he’s only 35. Boerio is 64. He served in the Navy as a lawyer where he says he prosecuted terrorists in Iraq. After his service, he ran for district judge in Pleasant Hills. Before he finished out his first term as a district judge, he ran for state senator in a 2015 special election.
Reschenthaler mounted an abortive run for Congress a year ago, after Tim Murphy stepped down amid scandal. Reschenthaler sought to be the party's candidate to replace him in a special election this past March, but party leaders chose state Rep. Rick Saccone instead. Saccone lost the election to Conor Lamb, and Reschenthaler beat Saccone in the May primary to serve a full-year term.
Reschenthaler said that throughout his career, “I’ve been committed to not only good public policy, but making sure that we're reaching across the aisle, getting things done and working in a bipartisan manner." And he touts a bill he cosponsored that would provide depression screenings for students in sixth and eleventh grade.
“I truly believe that's gonna make a huge difference in the opioid crisis," he said, "because too many young people who have depression will start to self medicate with marijuana and underage drinking and that leads to opioid addiction and heroin abuse.”
The Senate passed that legislation unanimously and it’s now sitting in a House committee.
Reschenthaler has been criticized for writing the forward to a book by Carl Higbie, a conservative commentator. He and Reschenthaler used to host a radio show together. The book contains passages that have been criticized as racist and homophobic. Reschenthaler says he wrote the forward without reading the book.
Most politicos say that Boerio has her work cut out for her in the district, which Donald Trump won by a 2-1 margin two years ago.
“It’s just a tough nut to crack for any Democrat,” said David Misra, professor at the Community College of Allegheny County. He also worked for one of Boerio’s Democratic rivals before the primary this spring. “The way this district has been redrawn has gone from a red to a redder one.”
Reschenthaler has an A rating from the National Rifle Association and a B rating from Americans for Prosperity, a conservative economic group. Boerio has widespread backing from labor unions, including the auto workers.
The race has been quiet. There hasn’t even been any type of debate between the candidates. But voters will have their say on November 6.