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Progressive Summer Lee rides out Super PAC avalanche at Pittsburgh House Race

Overcoming a $3 million onslaught from pro-Israel groups, Summer Lee, a progressive state representative, won the Democratic primary for Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district.

Lee beat attorney Steve Irwin, constitutional law professor Jerry Dickinson, nonprofit administrator Jeff Woodard and businessman Will Parker.

Voting for the primary ended on Tuesday, but it took several days to count all the ballots. Given the narrow nature of Lee’s lead on election night, The Associated Press did not declare the winner until Friday.

As the first winner of a solidly Democratic seat that includes the city of Pittsburgh, Lee is now virtually assured of a congressional seat after the general election in November.

She would be the first black woman to represent Pennsylvania in Congress and the first black person of any gender to represent Pittsburgh there. A supporter of ‘Medicare for All’, the Green New Deal and redistributing funds from the police to other social programs, Lee would also be the newest addition to the ultra-liberal House bloc known as ‘the Squad’. .

“Today the people took on the business and the people won,” Lee said in a statement early Wednesday morning. “We built a movement in western Pennsylvania that took corporate power, stood up for working families and fought back a multimillion-dollar smear campaign.”

Lee’s first victory was a disappointment for the pro-Israel establishment, which had rallied behind its main opponent, Irwin. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s new super PAC, the United Democracy Project, has spent nearly $2.7 million on Irwin’s behalf, much of it on television ads and mailings attacking Lee. AIPAC has also brought together over $268,000 for Irwin in the first quarter of this year, helping him build a direct fundraising advantage over Lee.

Meanwhile, another pro-Israel super PAC, Democratic Majority for Israel, has spent over $400,000 trying to elect Irwin. Unlike Lee, he is not advocating for more US pressure on the Israeli government.

“What we’re seeing is the pushback on that — it’s the pushback on how we were able to grow and include people who weren’t included in the political arena,” Lee said. to HuffPost during an interview at his Swissvale campaign office earlier this month, referring to heavy spending on behalf of his opponent.

Irwin also had a strong base of support among moderate labor unions and elected Democrats, such as Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and incumbent Rep. Mike Doyle, whose departure prompted the vacancy that Lee and Irwin were vying for. Doyle reacted to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ recent visit on Lee’s behalf with contempt, tell reporters“You don’t do anything being Bernie Sanders or the Squad.”

Irwin’s website says he supports “the move to a single-payer health care system” and he argued that his low-key, conciliatory style would ensure more tangible victories for Pennsylvania’s 12th than the approach of Lee as an activist-minded legislator.

For example, he considers his work experience in the office of the then senator. Arlen Spectre, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania, a selling point. (Specter became a Democrat years after Irwin worked for him.)

“I feel like I’m a bridge builder,” Irwin told Jewish Insider in April.

Steve Irwin, left, is campaigning with incumbent Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), whom Irwin is seeking to succeed. Irwin is also backed by deep-pocketed pro-Israel groups.

Rebecca Droke/Associated Press

It’s a message that has found a receptive audience with a number of influential local Democrats who have crossed swords with Lee since she burst onto the scene in 2018. In May of that year, she surprised many election observers by ousting an incumbent lawmaker from the state.

Relations with local powerbrokers did not improve during Lee’s first term. Because of his opposition to fracking and his advocacy for greater scrutiny of local industries, Lee made enemies in the local Federation of Labor and the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, both of whom refused. to endorse her re-election in 2020. She still won.

Although groups supporting Irwin have Underline Lee’s criticism of then-presidential candidate Joe Biden in the 2020 primary Irwin, not Lee, has ties to the GOP and the anti-union big business lobby. He contributed $250 to the 2014 re-election bid of Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and led the labor law practice of a Pittsburgh firm that, as PayDay Report first noted, conducts work of “union avoidance”.

Irwin insists he has never engaged in his company’s “union avoidance” work, but in 2015 the company announced him as the point person for companies wishing to express their “union avoidance” work. concerns” about a bill passed by Pittsburgh mandating paid sick leave citywide.

Several moderate unions are sufficiently wary of the Democratic Party’s leftward drift—and the headaches they believe progressives are causing Democrats in less liberal districts—that they backed Irwin.

“Steve reached out to our union leaders and talked about things he’d like to do in DC, and that kind of sounds like what Mike Doyle did for us in DC,” said United Steelworkers politically active JoJo Burgess. District 10. , which supports Irwin.

On-air support from pro-Israel groups for Irwin helped cut much of Lee’s early lead in the polls. But Lee has benefited from $1.7 million in last-minute outside spending led by the Justice Democrats, Working Families Party and Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC, as well as support from a number of progressive unions and elected officials. , including Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey. (D).

Lee and her allies also argued that she was unfairly singled out by big-money groups for being a black woman. Irwin did not help his case in a March interview in which he said that electing a black woman “on the face of it is very attractive”.

“They mean we shouldn’t believe that we have the power to transform and change things in this region, that black women shouldn’t be represented, that women shouldn’t be in power,” Lee said. to supporters during a solicitation. kicking off earlier this month. “They want us to believe that it’s okay that we’ve never had a non-white congressman, that the qualifications we have will never be good enough for someone who manages to exist in their gender and in their race. ”

In conversations Tuesday with voters in the Pittsburgh Hill district, a historically black neighborhood, it was evident that massive television ad campaigns by pro-Israel groups aimed at casting doubt on Lee’s Democratic credentials had cut through. But several voters told HuffPost they voted for Lee anyway.

Gary Howell, a retired truck driver and Army veteran, went to his polling place planning to vote for Irwin because television ads had left him with the impression that Lee was a Republican. He was surprised to find his name on the Democratic primary ballot; a poll worker confirmed to her that she was a Democrat.

“He had like three different commercials slandering her,” Howell said. “I just voted for her because she didn’t say a lot of bad things about him.”

Rose Loker, a retired computer programmer, went with “Lee because she has a lot of fighting in her. She’s not going to be a person who’s going to back down.

Loker, who “choked” between Lee and Irwin based on their qualifications, believed the “dark money” TV ads were lying about Lee’s lack of loyalty to the party.

“After a while, I kept thinking, ‘Well, why isn’t she fighting back? “Loker said. “But then I realized she couldn’t fight back because she didn’t have the resources to fight back.”

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