A week before Democratic Committee Members in PA’s 18th Congressional District choose their nominee for the special election to fill the seat vacated by the resignation of Tim Murphy, one hopeful is taking a rather unusual route to the Democratic nod.
The Democratic field is crowded, with several candidates who have already announced and are actively campaigning in and around the district. Candidates include former Allegheny County Councilman and PSEA leader Mike Crossey, former Assistant US Attorney and Marine Corps prosecutor Conor Lamb, counselor and psychologist Dr. Rueben Brock, Navy Veteran and former Assistant Secretary for Congressional Affairs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Pam Iovino, Dr. Bob Solomon, who is a practicing medical doctor, and Westmoreland County Commissioner Gina Cerilli, who made political waves this week when her lawsuit against the Westmoreland County Democratic Committee was dismissed as baseless.
Apparently, Gina Cerilli has decided to double down on her strategy of taking on the Democratic establishment, which is an odd choice in a race where relationship-building would seem to be a key component of a winning strategy.
At a recent event, Cerilli told a prominent labor leader that “I’ll be a Republican on everything but (organized) labor.” The comment was confirmed and verified by another individual present at the event. This is bizarre on many levels.
I’ll be a Republican on everything but (organized) labor.
First, why in the world would you say something like that when you’re in a six-person race? People will be looking for a reason to pare down the field right away, and a Democrat disavowing the entire party platform (save for one plank) makes it way too easy to put Cerilli on the pay-no-mind list.
Second, anyone who has ever sat down with a labor leader, especially in Western Pennsylvania, knows they traditionally have the most finely-tuned political bullshit meters in the room. If Cerilli thinks she’s going to just tell groups what they want to hear and hope that nobody compares notes, she picked a really bad group to start with. Labor leaders hear from disingenuous candidates all the time, and they value blunt honesty, but saying you’re really a Republican in Democrat’s clothing is probably a bridge too far. Or as the kids say: #TMI, Gina.
Third, it seems as though Cerilli’s approach is to run as kind of a Tim Murphy-lite because everyone knows that all Western Pennsylvania Democrats are ultra-conservatives in disguise, right? That’s the political wisdom you hear from people at parties who like to sound politically savvy, but it’s also some of the laziest political analysis you’ll ever come across.
Everyone assumes that Democrat voters won’t support a “dyed in the wool” Democrat to fill Tim Murphy’s seat, but could it be that Democrats haven’t had a really good alternative to Murphy for the past decade? By conceding ideological defeat to the opposition party before you’ve even circulated a nominating petition, Cerilli runs the very real risk of alienating actual Democratic voters throughout the 18th District.
In her defense, the DINO (Democrat In Name Only) stance might play in Westmoreland County, where years of indoctrination from the right-leaning Tribune-Review made Democrat the dirtiest of all dirty words, but the 18th District is a lot more than Westmoreland County. If Cerilli thought this approach would fly in True Blue mainstays like Allegheny County, it demonstrates a stunning lack of political awareness from someone hoping to emerge from a crowded primary with a Democratic nomination in her pocket.
With the nomination for the Democratic nod for the Special Election less than a week away and the full-blown nomination process about to kick off, Gina Cerilli is serving up unforced errors left and right. If Cerilli is serious about this race, she’s going to need to remember a couple of things, beginning that she is running as a Democrat, and if she feels the need to apologize for that fact, the race probably isn’t going to end the way she wants.