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Behind the Battle for a Suburban Pittsburgh House District with National Implications

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MT. LEBANON, Dad. – One of the most hotly contested races of the 2022 midterms is taking place in the suburbs of Pittsburgh and it could test how well or badly each party is doing in Tuesday’s election.

In Pennsylvania’s 17th congressional district, Democrat Chris Deluzio takes on Republican Jeremy Shaffer in the only toss-up for an open congressional seat in the six swing states that President Joe Biden won in 2020, according to The Cook Political Report, the impartial analyst of elections. The race is a must-win for Democrats to have any hope of retaining control of the House.

This district, which Biden won by about 6 points in 2020, has had the second highest ad spend of any race in The Keystone State, according to AdImpact tracking. It stretches from the wealthier suburbs south of Pittsburgh through western Allegheny County, encompassing the entirety of Beaver County, a swinging working-class district, to northwestern Pittsburgh.

But with Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Pa., the district’s incumbent congressman who made a failed Senate bid, the party lost its lead over incumbents — and the race has now become a coin.

“In a year that generally benefits Republicans, this is an opportunity for them,” Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, which conducts the Morning Call survey in Pennsylvania, told NBC News. watched the race take shape that way. It’s one where it could be Democratic overall if we look at the district, but with no incumbent, a pretty well-funded Republican and a good cycle. This is very competitive.”

Losing Lamb “takes a big advantage of Democrats who otherwise would have had in a fairly popular incumbent who would be able to move back into the district,” Borick said.

The race will also indicate how Democrats are faring for the workers in the suburbs and whether the party can maintain the lead it had in the suburbs from Biden’s first run.

Deluzio, a former naval officer who served in Iraq and director of cyber policy at the University of Pittsburgh, carries out a more populist economic message: boost US manufacturing and reduce dependence on China, pass union laws in Congress, fight inflation by targeting prices — tying his opponent, an engineer, company president and former local council commissioner, to outsourcing local jobs.

He has also put the future of democracy at the heart of his campaign, labeling Shaffer a “coward” for failing to denounce his party’s efforts to make elections and abortion rights illegal. And he has praised the endorsement of a number of local unions who support his efforts.

“If they get their way, they’re going to get us stuck,” Deluzio said of Republicans at a rally last week for Democratic nominee for governor, Josh Shapiro, in the town of Beaver. “They will continue to have bad trade deals that rip us off. They will continue to ship our jobs around the planet. In addition to killing the union way of life, they are attacking our reproductive freedom. They are attacking our democracy.”

Shaffer, meanwhile, has focused his campaign message on fighting crime and inflation while calling for duality, congressional term limits, an end to gerrymandering and campaign finance reform, which Deluzio has also campaigned for. Shaffer, who said he would have supported the bipartisan infrastructure deal, has criticized Deluzio as being too left-wing candidate for the district and has promoted support from local police organizations.

“I am deeply, deeply concerned about the direction of our country,” Shaffer said at a meeting last week alongside Republican Senate nominee Mehmet Oz. “This country cannot afford two more years of democratic one-party rule. And Republicans, Democrats, independents, we’re all in the boat together now. We are all Americans.

“My campaign slogan is ‘Better Together,’” he said, an apparent spin-off of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Democratic presidential candidate’s ‘Stronger Together’. “We can do it.”

Republican congressional candidate Jeremy Shaffer speaks in Pittsburgh on October 19, 2022.Gene J. Puskar / AP File

The candidates only entered into the confrontation in one go debate. Plans for a second debate and forum in the final week of the campaign were: cancelled after Shaffer said he had contracted an illness.

Speaking to NBC News last week from his campaign office, Deluzio said voters he spoke to in the district want a legislator who will “fight to take things home to produce more” and someone with a military background. like himself.

“And these threats to our democracy and freedom, I keep hearing from people, Democrat, Independent, Republican, they can’t stand it,” he said. “They want our government to be normal and functional.”

“There are plenty of people in my district who are Republican and don’t want that anti-democratic power to come to power,” he added. “But they have, frankly, cowards who run like the man I run into, who won’t confront them, who doesn’t have the backbone to say, ‘This is anti-democratic and a threat.’ And look, I say that as someone who is not just a candidate, but who has sworn an oath to defend this Constitution and was willing to risk my life for this government. It drives me crazy.”

In an interview prior to the rally with Oz Rally in suburban Pittsburgh, Shaffer said Deluzio was “desperate” as his campaign picked up some momentum in recent weeks.

“People have really started tuning in in the past few weeks,” he said. “And the people who are starting to tune in here are breaking our way. Crime has mainly become a concern and inflation has become a concern. And some of the other distractions are really gone. People look at their primary problems and make their decisions here in the last days.”

Lamb said he sees inflation and crime as big problems in the district, just as they are elsewhere, adding that Deluzio and Democrats have tried to convince voters that Republicans haven’t presented a viable solution to those problems.

“They emphasize the importance of those issues, but as far as I can see, they don’t really offer a coherent plan to address that,” Lamb told NBC News ahead of the Shapiro rally in Beaver. “While we’ve tried to do a lot of things about inflation that I don’t think has made inflation as bad in this country as it is in other parts of the world.”

He added: “With a week to go, we still have a lot of room to convince people.”

Former Representative Keith Rothfus, R-Pa., who lost the district in a 2018 game against Lamb after serving three terms, praised Shaffer for “really rushing through the district” and meeting voters.

As for why the area has become such an important swing district, Rothfus mentioned its economic and geographic importance.

“It’s the crossroads of much of the country, right between the Midwest and the Northeast,” he said. “It’s a good place for people to focus.”

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