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Challengers in Western Pa. races face classic hurdles

| Monday, Oct. 8, 2012
Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle of Forest Hills is unopposed in seeking re-election to his 14th Congressional District seat.
Democrat Missa Eaton, 49, is running against incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly of Butler in the 3rd Congressional District. Submitted
Forest Hills Republican Hans Lessmann, 52, hopes to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, also of Forest Hills, in the 14th Congressional District. Submitted

Republican Hans Lessmann knows he's attempting the near impossible with little money or name recognition in a campaign to unseat nine-term Democrat incumbent Mike Doyle in the 14th Congressional District.

Democrat Missa Eaton is facing the same obstacles in her race against incumbent Republican Mike Kelly in the 3rd Congressional District.

Both challengers are mounting grassroots campaigns, canvassing voters door-to-door. The incumbents say experience makes them the most qualified candidates.

“Election time, I campaign like I'm in a tough race,” Doyle said.

His district includes all of Pittsburgh and runs east to Penn Hills, south to McKeesport and west to Coraopolis. The 3rd District runs from near Kittanning to Butler and Slippery Rock, then veers west to hug the Pennsylvania-Ohio line, stretching north to Erie.

Lessmann, a self-described Tea Party activist, said he's counting on voter animosity toward incumbents to beat Doyle. He wants to bolster the military, reduce debt and taxes, and slash federal spending.

He said feedback from voters indicates that Doyle is vulnerable.

“I really think people are not happy with incumbency,” he said. “There's a real sense of anxiety that we've got a captain and crew of a ship that's sinking, and these guys are AWOL.”

Doyle said that the federal government must increase revenue and cut spending, and that the only way that will happen is for Democrats and Republicans to sit down and hash out a bipartisan agreement.

He said that Tea Party members aren't willing to compromise, and that's caused gridlock in Washington.

Doyle said he concentrates on economic development back home. He thinks Western Pennsylvania can add jobs by courting the energy industry. One of his projects is converting the former Connelley Technical Institute in the Hill District to a “green” vocational center.

“I'm focused on looking for ways to work from the federal government side to make sure Pittsburgh is getting the resources and the type of partnership it needs from the federal government to grow and prosper,” he said.

Eaton, a former psychology professor at Penn State Shenango, said government can't solve all problems for Americans, but it can help. She wants to attract industry to former industrial towns through better marketing.

She said she would cultivate overseas interests to invest in the 3rd District by purchasing products such as locomotives from two General Electric plants in her area. She wants to set up business incubator programs to help startups gain footing so they can stand alone.

“I came into this race in January with a name recognition issue,” she said. “I've worked exceedingly hard for the last nine months to get my message out. Our greatest strength now is in the field.”

Kelly said the country must capitalize on its natural resources — oil, gas and coal — to get the economy running. He said leadership isn't taking advantage of that.

He favors simplifying the federal tax code, lowering taxes and cutting debt. Overaggressive regulations stifle business and the economy, he said. He opposes Obama's health care law and believes free enterprise is the best model for medicine.

“God has graced us with natural resources,” he said. “We can take advantage of that. We can't (improve the economy) by borrowing more money and growing more debt.”

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or

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