Summer Lee Clinging To Lead In Historic PA Congressional Race

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Summer Lee, candidate for the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, addresses supporters at her election night watch party downtown Pittsburgh on Tuesday, May 17, 2022.
Summer Lee, candidate for the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, addresses supporters at her election night watch party downtown Pittsburgh on Tuesday, May 17, 2022.

Almost 24 hours since polls closed in critical primary elections in Pennsylvania and elsewhere and at least one race involving a Black woman running for Congress still doesn’t have a winner.

Summer Lee, a state legislator from a Pittsburgh suburb who was the target of attack ads paid for by a pro-Israel lobbying group, is slightly ahead in the race to be the Democratic party’s nominee in the Pennsylvania’s newly-drawn 12th congressional district as of Wednesday afternoon. Lee has a slim lead over Steve Irwin, an attorney who’s also a part of the party’s long-entrenched establishment in Western Pennsylvania.

Lee campaigned on a progressive platform and was supported by Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) as well as Ed Gainey, who this year became Pittsburgh’s first Black mayor. But she also faced a bombardment of negative ads paid for by the United Democracy Project, the political action committee of AIPAC, the largest pro-Israel lobbying group in the country. UDP spent a reported $2.3 million on the 12th district race.

The ads were controversial not just because they accused Lee of being disloyal to her party and not supporting President Joe Biden’s policy agenda but because they also never mentioned that the group paying for them has a history of supporting right-wing candidates or its ties to the AIPAC. Lee actually ran with the support of at least one local pro-Israel group.

Taken along with Gainey’s election and other developments, a Lee victory would be historic and could signal a shifting of political power in the Pittsburgh area. Lee would be the first Black woman to represent any part of Pennsylvania in Congress assuming she wraps up the nomination and what should be an easy general election in the heavily blue district.

In addition, Austin Davis, another Black candidate from suburban Pittsburgh, on Tuesday became the first Black person to be a major party nominee for Pennsylvania’s Lieutenant governor. That means that by November, it’s possible that Pittsburgh--a city that had never had a Black mayor in its 205 year history and was recently listed as among cities with the worst quality of life for Black residents--could have Black representation in the mayor’s office, on Capitol Hill and in the Pennsylvania governor’s mansion.

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