- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Progressives are finding themselves in an unusual position in the primary for an open blue seat near Pittsburgh, according to a new survey from an allied group: backing the frontrunner.
State Rep. Summer Lee, whose endorsements include Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has a commanding 25-point lead in the primary to replace retiring Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), according to a new poll commissioned by EMILY’s List, which is backing Lee.
Her dominance is a reminder that open-seat races — where longtime Democratic incumbents retired or redistricting forged a new seat — represent a fruitful opportunity for the left, which is trying to grow its ranks after a disappointing slew of losses in 2021.
Some 30 Democratic incumbents have announced they will leave Congress this cycle. Those in swing seats threaten the party's already tenuous grasp on its razor-thin majority, but even those leaving deep blue districts will impact the makeup of the House in 2023, if they are replaced by more progressive candidates.
First elected to the state House in 2018, Lee is a lawyer who supports a $15 minimum wage, the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. She ousted a longtime incumbent when she won her state House seat with support from a local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.
She is also endorsed by Justice Democrats, a progressive organization that made its name backing longshot challengers to entrenched Democratic incumbents.
Lee, who received 38 percent of the vote in the late March poll, has two chief opponents in the May 17 primary, lawyer Steve Irwin and law professor Jerry Dickinson. They received 13 percent and 7 percent, respectively. Some 40 percent were undecided.
The survey of 400 likely Democratic primary voters was conducted by GQR Research from March 26-31. The margin of error is 4.9 percent. Lee's name ID among voters surveyed was 61 percent and her favorability rating was 39/10.
“Summer Lee is the bold and inspiring leader we need to secure victory of the must-win open seat,” Laphonza Butler, president of EMILY’s List, said in a statement, noting that Lee would be the first Black congresswoman from the state.
The retiring member, Rep. Mike Doyle, was first elected in 1994 and is the dean of Pennsylvania’s delegation. The pro-labor Democrat had faced challenges from the left before, including from Dickinson in 2020, but won reelection easily.
After falling short in Ohio, Louisiana and Virginia last year, progressives have focused their efforts more this year on trying to win open seats, rather than mounting the uphill task of ousting longtime incumbents. Four of the six members of a group of prominent progressives known as “the Squad” won their seats by defeating sitting members in primaries, including Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.).
But retirements by veteran members, like Doyle, open up other key opportunities. Progressive Austin City Councilmember Greg Casar won a primary for an open deep blue seat in central Texas last month with little opposition. And left-leaning state Rep. Jasmine Crockett is the frontrunner in the primary runoff next month for retiring Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson’s Dallas-based seat.
Doyle announced he would retire in mid-October, before Pennsylvania completed its redistricting process. His district remained a deep blue seat that President Joe Biden would have carried by 20 points in 2020.