Pennsylvania will be crucial to Democrats’ chances of maintaining control of Congress in November. John Fetterman, the large, tattooed populist running against Trump-backed celebrity TV doctor Mehmet Oz, is the party’s best hope for picking up a Senate seat in the 2022 midterms. As for the House, Democrats face a tougher path to holding onto a majority, with vulnerable Pennsylvania Democrats like Susan Wild and Chrissy Houlahan having to defend their seats. But an overlooked race in a Southwestern Pennsylvania district — currently rated a “Democratic toss-up” — will also be key to deciding control of the chamber.
Chris Deluzio, a voting rights attorney and former Bernie Sanders delegate, defeated the moderate candidate in the 17th Congressional District primary earlier this year, running on a pro-worker campaign that vows to take on unchecked corporate power. He’s now running against Republican Jeremy Shaffer, an executive who made millions at a large software firm that works on infrastructure projects in China. A recent internal poll conducted by Lake Research Partners found the two candidates deadlocked, with Deluzio holding a slight one-point lead.
The seat is currently held by Rep. Conor Lamb, a conservative Democrat who lost to Fetterman by over 30 points in the Democratic primary for Senate. Lamb voted almost 70 percent of the time in line with President Donald Trump during his first session in Congress, but eventually distanced himself from these positions in preparation for his statewide run. To win the 2018 special election — in a district that swung for Trump — Lamb ran as an ultra-moderate, banking on his experience as a federal prosecutor and former marine. Deluzio, who’s also a veteran, is taking a different approach, focusing his message on the importance of unions and building worker power, bolstering antitrust enforcement, and holding corporations accountable for outsourcing jobs and other exploitative practices.
“I think people are pretty mad about what’s been going on with price gouging from the biggest and most powerful corporations. And you see it in sectors of the economy where there’s lots of consolidation, and where there isn’t much competition,” Deluzio told More Perfect Union in an interview. “You see it exacerbated by not just the pandemic, but the consequences of decades of shipping our factories and jobs abroad. I mean, my region got hit really hard by the bad trade deals and marked globalization.”
Last year, Deluzio helped organize a union at the University of Pittsburgh alongside the United Steelworkers, a successful drive that led to the biggest new faculty union in a decade. “It reinforced for me something I already know, that it’s just too hard for folks to form and join the union,” Deluzio said about being active in the effort. “And, frankly, we need more union density and more union members and more union workers in this country to lift up people’s pay and benefits and say on the job.”
Shaffer, in contrast, often touts his experience as president and co-founder of InspectTech, a company dedicated to software “for efficient and safe management of bridges and transportation infrastructure.” InspectTech was bought out in 2012 by Bentley Systems, a billion-dollar software company that has development and sales in over 50 countries, and Shaffer stayed on as an executive after the sale. “This guy has made millions from a company that’s been building things all over the globe,” Deluzio said.
“I think he’s full of crap,” Deluzio continued. “He’s trying to present himself as somebody he’s not, which is a corporate-backed politician who will do the bidding of the biggest, most powerful corporations in this country. And the reality is, this is a guy who’s self-funded on the backs of stock options, and money wrapped up in a company that stands to lose if we start bringing more of our supply chains back and start resetting our trade policy to be more sane.”
Shaffer currently holds a campaign cash advantage, as he’s poured over a million dollars of his personal wealth into his bid for office. Besides the self-funding, Shaffer’s biggest contributors are people affiliated with the software company he works at, according to data on OpenSecrets.
Deluzio supports the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, universal health care, and has made abortion rights a key issue in the race. Though Shaffer has been trying to portray himself as a moderate, his positions on issues like abortion are just as extreme as the ones held by the typical Republican politician. Shaffer supported the overturning of Roe v. Wade and is in favor of banning abortion without exception for cases of rape and incest, according to his answers on a candidate questionaire. At a forum hosted by the Republican Committee of Beaver County, Shaffer said he believes any federal restriction of abortion should come in the form of a constitutional amendment, otherwise “any time the Democrats are in power, then it’s going to flip to the extreme.”
Deluzio believes his campaign’s pro-labor message is resonating with voters across the political spectrum, including conservatives. “I think we’re breaking through,” he said. “I think the contrast with where we are on strong union jobs and frankly, where the right-wing Republicans are maximizing corporate profits and power, the contrast is pretty stark .”