In cross-town legislative races, a combination punch for city progressives (UPDATED) | Pittsburgh City Paper

In cross-town legislative races, a combination punch for city progressives (UPDATED)

OK, so it might be a bit premature to get that "New Pittsburgh" tattoo after all.

That's one of the nagging doubts some progressives went to bed with last night, after Tuesday's Democratic primary resulted in defeats for both Tom Michalow and state Rep. Erin Molchany. Both candidates were running in city/suburb hybrid districts, against familiar Democratic names. Molchany was squaring off against Harry Readshaw, a 10-term incumbent into whose South Hills district Molchany was drawn; Michalow was battling North Side Rep. Adam Ravenstahl, a two-term rep and brother of Pittsburgh's former mayor.

And for progressives, what may be most worrisome is not whether they lost, but how:

  • Molchany had the backing of Mayor Bill Peduto -- the very architect of the New Pittsburgh -- as well as County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. She also had support from a slew of socially-liberal groups like Planned Parenthood, the city's teachers union, and same-sex-equality advocates EqualityPA. Yet she still lost by a 60-40 margin.
  • Michalow, meanwhile, had only a fraction of that support. Yet he nearly toppled Ravenstahl, who beat him only 52-48.

It was enough to make some know-it-all Wednesday morning quarterbacks wonder: Could progressives have won Michalow's race if they'd invested a bit more of the energy they put into Molchany's? (There's an even darker possibility, of course: What if Michalow did better because he didn't have as much progressive "help"?)

It's not that everyone was blindsided by Tuesday's results. I've been told by various sources that Molchany's campaign had internal polling which showed that she faced a steep uphill climb: Her drubbing on Tuesday was actually not quite as bad as her own polling predicted it could be. Campaign consultant Matt Merriman-Preston, who worked on both the Molchany and Michalow campaigns, says that while no such poll was carried out for Michalow, he had field reports -- "which turned out to be fairly accurate" -- that the race would be tight.

But Merriman-Preston, a celebrated architect of Peduto's political strategy, was wary of drawing too many lessons from yesterday's primary.

"There's only a big-picture takeaway when I win," jokes Merriman-Preston, with a somewhat rueful laugh. "When I lose, it's all just minutiae."