Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle, who has represented parts of western Pennsylvania for 14 terms, announced his retirement in October 2021. He is supporting state Rep. Summer Lee, a progressive who won a hard-fought primary in May to take over his spot on the ballot. In theory, this should be a relatively safe Democratic retention in next week’s midterm election. In practice, it’s not that simple.
Lee’s Republican opponent is also named Mike Doyle, and like the current retiring congressman, he’s an older white guy with gray hair. Some voters in the redrawn Pittsburgh-area district who wanted to support the Democrat have said that they accidentally voted for the wrong candidate after two-plus decades of checking the box for Doyle.
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. If she wins, Lee would be the first Black woman to represent Pennsylvania in Congress.
Lee’s campaign has attempted to draw the distinction, releasing an ad that begins, “Election alert: Democrat Mike Doyle is not on the ballot. A different Republican Mike Doyle is.”
The ad continues to show the Republican Doyle calling himself “very conservative” before noting his positions on abortion and guns and his campaign appearance with Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano, whose extreme positions have kept a number of Keystone State Republicans from supporting him. Justice Democrats, a group that supports progressive candidates, is running a similar ad.
At a Tuesday night campaign event in Pittsburgh for state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the party’s nominee for governor, Doyle began his remarks by saying, “I’m Mike Doyle. I’m the real Mike Doyle. And let’s not make any mistake about that. There’s another guy parading around with my name that does not share our values, who does not deserve to be in the United States Congress, and I want everyone here to understand that we need to get behind state representative Summer Lee and make sure that she wins the 12th legislative district. We need to keep that seat blue.”
The Democratic Doyle had declined to endorse Lee previously after supporting her more moderate opponent in the primary. In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last month, Doyle said, “This is not meant to be a political announcement ... I’m not telling people who to vote for, I merely think it’s the responsible thing to do, as a public service, to make sure they know who’s on the ballot and who isn’t.”
During that interview, he also noted 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.
One of the reasons Lee won the primary was for maintaining a strong ground game, the same tool the campaign is hoping can help clear up confusion about the ballot. Lee’s campaign manager, Abigail Gardner, said the name issue is the “No. 1 conversation” the team is having when knocking on doors.
“We have heard a lot of confusion when we’re talking to voters about the fact that Summer’s opponent is named Mike Doyle,” Gardner told the Tribune-Review last month. “We have no doubt Summer will win on Election Day, but voters need to get the correct information so they can make an informed decision in the voting booth.”
While the nonpartisan Cook Political Report still rates the seat as “Likely Democrat,” the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC announced they would begin running ads against Lee in the district after it spent millions trying to defeat her in the primary. Republicans were already running ads for the neighboring 17th District, tying the Democratic candidate there, Chris Deluzio, to Lee and one her endorsers, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. The Intercept reported this week that one internal poll had Lee at 44%, Doyle at 40% and 16% still undecided.
The Democratic Doyle mentioned the outside groups during Tuesday night’s event, saying, “Don’t let that fool you, don’t let that deter you.”
Lee, speaking immediately after Doyle, addressed them as well.
“Let me tell you something about me, because I know y’all have seen me on your T.V.,” Lee said to laughter. “I’ve been on there a lot lately. And there’s going to be a lot of caricatures about me from these right-wing extremist groups who have put millions into fearmongering because that’s what they do best. They’ll take your words and they’ll take them out of context and they’ll play on your worst fears. They’ll talk about crime and talk about all the things that keep us up at night, but let me tell you something: They don’t care anything about our lives for real.”