Democratic state Rep. Summer Lee has become the first Black woman elected to the U.S. House from Pennsylvania, overcoming a late flood of outside money and confusion about her opponent and the retiring congressman they were competing to replace.
Last year, 14-term Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle announced his retirement. Lee won a hard-fought primary to compete for his seat in the 12th District, and drew a Republican opponent also named Mike Doyle. Some voters in the redrawn Pittsburgh-area district who wanted to support the Democrat have said they accidentally voted for the wrong candidate after two-plus decades of checking the box for Doyle.
The Republican Doyle released a statement late Tuesday night saying he had called Lee to concede, congratulating her and wishing her well in Congress. The Associated Press declared her the winner on Wednesday morning.
“We fought, we built coalitions. We brought together people who had never worked together on campaigns,” Lee said at an election night event in Pittsburgh. “When we are going to make history, there are always going to be barriers that come up against us. I am so proud of the work that everyone in this movement has done.”
Lee’s campaign attempted to draw a distinction between the two Doyles, releasing an ad that began, “Election alert: Democrat Mike Doyle is not on the ballot. A different Republican Mike Doyle is.” Lee’s campaign manager, Abigail Gardner, had said the name issue was the “No. 1 conversation” the team was having when knocking on doors.
The Democratic Doyle initially declined to endorse Lee in the general election but told voters to support her at a campaign event last week. During an October interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Doyle said he wasn’t surprised about the name overlap, saying there were four additional Mike Doyles just in his own family.
“There’s a bunch of us; it’s a rather common Irish name in Pittsburgh,” the congressman said.
Lee, a lawyer and labor activist, was elected to the state Legislature in 2018 after successfully primarying a two-decade incumbent whose family is a Pittsburgh political dynasty. In the primary, she overcame outside spending from the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC and an endorsement by the Democratic Doyle for her more moderate opponent.
She helped found Unite, an organization boosting progressive candidates, in coalition with service unions, and had earned the endorsement of Justice Democrats, the same organization that helped “Squad” members like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib get elected to Congress.
The seat was considered safe for Lee by prognosticators, but there were worries that the name issue and more money from AIPAC could potentially make the race tougher than anticipated. She received some major boosts in the campaign’s final days: She spoke prior to former President Barack Obama at a rally Saturday in Pittsburgh, and Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigned with her on Sunday, as he had during the primary. More than 200 Pittsburgh-area Jews published a letter condemning AIPAC’s spending on the race and reiterating their support for Lee.
Overall, it was a successful night for Democrats in Pennsylvania, as state Attorney General Josh Shapiro won the governor’s race and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman flipped an open Republican Senate seat. Lee had rallied with both Shapiro and Fetterman in the race’s final weeks. Democrats also won or were leading in a number of swing House districts as well as surpassing expectations in state legislative races.