Pennsylvania centrists flirt with Dems, party rebuffs them

There is a battle going on here within the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, a formidable force of centrist, conservative and liberal Democrats whose backgrounds range from union halls to businessmen and women.

A key figure in the battle is committeewoman Heather Kass, who is running for the state House.

Several years ago, Kass posted on social media criticism of Obamacare and the distribution of free Narcan for addicts — and insinuated support for President Donald Trump.

Fortunately for Kass, she received 49 votes from the committee to secure its endorsement. Her opponent, Jess Benham, received just 19.

That’s when things started to get interesting.

Darrin Kelly, an influential local labor leader, issued a statement blasting Kass’s previous statements.

The party hierarchy followed that up by saying her social media history was disqualifying. The fight soon unraveled and tested a party that has comfortably come together and built a force that helped keep a Democrat as the chief executive officer for five consecutive terms.

Now accusations of disloyalty and closet Trumpism are being tossed around by the liberal wing of the party.

The factions that once worked together well enough to enjoy a healthy coalition are splintering.

Party Chairwoman Eileen Kelly held a press conference defending the endorsement process and encouraging forgiveness of Kass’s past social media posts.

But in response, local elected Democrats including two of the county’s congressmen, Rep. Mike Doyle and Rep. Conor Lamb, demanded that she submit her resignation.

Two things are worth watching: The chairwoman is probably going nowhere, and the April 28 Democratic primaries in Pennsylvania are going to be quite a spectacle.

This county isn’t the only one in the commonwealth with fractures within the party. Lancaster County is experiencing some serious turmoil within its party ranks.

Unlike Allegheny, Lancaster is considered a red county. Yet despite giving Trump a majority of its votes in 2016, Democrats (under then-Chairwoman JoAnn Hertz) fought and flipped traditionally Republican-held suburbs in the 2017 and 2019 local elections.

As thanks, Hertz was given the choice of either facing public criticisms from within the party ranks or resigning.

Forced out, Hertz was replaced in a committee election by Diane Topakian, a retired Service Employees International Union organizer.

Places such as Allegheny and Lancaster counties have made strides in elections with Democratic candidates who ran as centrists.

Once they are elected, however, local party apparatuses start to they show demand more fidelity to liberalism.

The ideological balance in this country remains firmly center-right.

Gallup poll numbers show 37 percent of the country identifies as conservative, 35 percent as moderate and 24 percent as liberal. It also found that Republicans tend to be less fractured.

Democrats are more fractured. Survey results strikingly reflected what happened in Allegheny and Lancaster counties.

As Gallup said, “Even though liberalism has been on the rise among Democrats, it is not yet the clear majority position, perhaps leading to the strong intraparty clashes.”

A Democratic presidential candidate is not going to win or lose based on how fractured his or her party is.

It will depend on how well he or she can coalesce the party and motivate people to show up.

What is happening in Allegheny and Lancaster counties shouldn’t surprise anyone. It has been reflected in every single Democratic debate of this presidential cycle.

The party has been trying to shed its centrist members since Al Gore. Clinton failed to include the working class in her coalition and lost.

If these smaller county parties mimic that in 2020, Democrats will struggle both locally and nationally.


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