Political strategists weigh in on how voters elected progressive Innamorato and law-and-order Zappala

Political strategists weigh in on how voters elected progressive Innamorato and law-and-order Zappal

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Allegheny County Executive-elect Sara Innamorato will be both the youngest and the first woman elected to serve in this position.

On the day after her election, political analysts are debating how the 37-year-old did it.

In a county that is two-to-one Democratic in registration, Sara Innamorato was always the odds-on favorite to win, but Republican Joe Rockey nearly snatched victory from her.

"In the great blue wave, Joe Rockey came within a point of winning the Allegheny County executive's race, and I think that is an unbelievable story for a good candidate who ran a really good campaign," said Republican political strategist Mike DeVanney.

Republican political strategist DeVanney, who worked on Rockey's campaign, says Rockey just couldn't overcome the odds.

"I'm not sure what else could have been done in this campaign. Joe Rockey was a superior candidate. He worked his tail off," DeVanney said. 

But Democratic political analyst Joanna Doven says Innamorato won, despite the millions spent against her, because she was very strategic in her campaign.

"She was very smart in centering herself in the final thirty days of the race," Doven said. "She denounced the Democratic Socialists of America movement of which she was once a part, and she aligned herself with what I would call moderate Democrats. She was attending groundbreaking for developments. You didn't see her much at all with Mayor Ed Gainey or Representative Summer Lee."  

Doven says that helped to reassure enough Democrats that Innamorato was not going to govern like a left-wing progressive.

"I think that effort and Josh Shapiro, the governor, coming out to support her a lot in the final week really tipped the scale for her to win it by about 8,000 votes," Doven said.

Republican DeVanney also credits Shapiro's television ad with making a difference.

"When a race is as close as this one, everything makes the difference. I think Gov. Shapiro entering this race, strategically what that did, it was a message to Democrats that Sara was an acceptable Democrat," DeVanney said. 

37-year-old Sara Innamorato becomes first woman elected Allegheny County executive

So how did the same electorate -- some 41 percent of registered voters -- elect both Innamorato and perhaps a polar opposite, District Attorney Steve Zappala, at the same time?  

Long-time Democrat Steve Zappala won a record seventh term as district attorney. It sometimes seems as if the same voters elect polar opposites.

Innamorato has always styled herself as a progressive Democrat, and she had no problem endorsing fellow Democrat Matt Dugan for district attorney. But on Tuesday the same voters that elected her chose to reelect District Attorney Steve Zappala, a much more conservative law-and-order Democrat.

"I think people were just not comfortable with the idea of a progressive prosecutor in the mold that George Soros has funded in other municipalities," said Ben Wren, Zappala's campaign manager.  

"Every messaging opportunity we had, we tried to make sure that people knew that Steve was a law-and-order Democrat and that Matt Dugan was soft on crime." 

Wren says their strategy was keyed to Zappala's Democratic supporters even though he was running on the Republican ticket -- that was easier for him to do than Republican Rockey because Zappala had run in the Democratic primary last May. 

"Steve in the primary got just over 31,000 in mail-in votes in the Democratic Primary, so we had a targeted list of people who had already voted for Steve once," Wren said. 

All mail-in voters got special attention from Zappala, says Wren, so when those votes were counted, Zappala did 14,000 votes better than Rockey did in his race for county executive. Zappala won reelection by 11,000 votes, thanks also to votes outside the city of Pittsburgh.

"There seems to be a schism between the city Democrats and what I term the Mon Valley and suburban Democrats," Wren said.

Zappala won many of the same communities Rockey won except by bigger margins. Wren says both the district attorney's race and the county executive's race will teach future candidates. 

"We're going to take a look at everything that happened in Allegheny County last night and see what we can learn for the future," Wren said. 

While we will get a short break from all those negative TV ads, the 2024 campaign now begins in earnest. And it's likely to be much more intense than this last one. 

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