Politics

Longtime Democratic congressman elected in the face of 1994 GOP wave retiring from Pittsburgh seat

Doyle, who himself had also recently joined the Democratic Party, decided to run for the 18th District in 1994 to succeed none other than Rick Santorum, the hardline Republican congressman who was leaving to successfully challenge Democratic Sen. Harris Wofford. Santorum had decisively defeated Pecora, who had won an extremely crowded Democratic primary two years before following what Congressional Quarterly called “easily the most convoluted House race in the state, if not the nation,” but George H.W. Bush’s poor performance in the Pittsburgh area seat gave Team Blue plenty of optimism about flipping it.

Like his old boss, Doyle also took part in a packed nomination battle that included many of the same people Pecora had beaten in 1992. Doyle ended up squeaking past Mike Adams, who was also the runner-up in the last primary, 19.9-18.0, an accomplishment that makes him one of the very few sitting House members to win his primary with less than 20% of the vote.

Doyle’s general election opponent was John McCarty, who had served as a Senate aide for the late moderate Republican John Heinz. This turned into an unusual contest between a Republican who identified as pro-choice and Doyle, who was against abortion rights. While 1994 was a horrible year for Democrats across the nation, Doyle flipped the seat by a decisive 55-45 margin. (Three other House Democrats flipped open GOP-held House seats that year.)

The new congressman won the following cycle 56-40 and never came close to losing reelection during the rest of his career. Doyle continued to oppose abortion, but unlike Dan Lipinski, his former colleague from Illinois, he rarely inflamed the base. In 2011, for example, Doyle explained his vote against a law to bar women from getting tax credits or deductions for abortion procedures by saying, “This is a huge step beyond restricting federal funding for abortion – it would limit how Americans spend their OWN money and deny American women access to a full range of health care services, and I can’t support that.”

Doyle, though, remained a supporter of the infamous Hyde Amendment, which keeps federal money from funding most abortions, until 2019. Law professor Jerry Dickinson used the incumbent’s longtime support for Hyde against him in their 2020 primary: Doyle won 67-33, which was his smallest win in a nomination fight since his 1994 squeaker.




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