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14th District challenger battles Democrat Doyle, name recognition

| Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, 11:19 a.m.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle of Forest Hills is unopposed in seeking re-election to his 14th Congressional District seat.
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

Voters in nearly a dozen Alle-Kiski Valley communities will vote in November for a congressman who currently does not represent them.

Sitting U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, a Democrat, hopes residents will remember him from when he represented the area in the 1990s — before the 2000 redistricting took the Valley out of his district.

Republican challenger Hans Lessmann knows name recognition is a challenge for him as he takes on the nine-term incumbent, and hopes the new territory will be a help in his effort.

As a result of redistricting, the 14th Congressional District now represented by Doyle morphs in January. A number of Allegheny River communities from Harmar to Harrison were added to the 14th, as were two Westmoreland County cities, Arnold and New Kensington.

The victor in next month's election will represent the redrawn district beginning in January.

Lessmann, an optometrist whose only prior political experience is a failed run for Woodland Hills School Board, knows a victory would be a huge upset. Doyle is considered to have one of the five safest seats in the country, Lessmann said.

“I can only be optimistic that people will respond to my message,” said Lessmann, who described himself as a “river rat.”

While the Doyle-Lessmann race hasn't attracted national attention or a flurry of television ads, and Democrats enjoy a seemingly insurmountable registration advantage, Doyle said he isn't taking the election for granted.

“We are out there working just as hard,” Doyle said.

“This job is a two-year term. You don't have the luxury of not working hard.”

Lessmann is mounting a grass-roots campaign, canvassing voters door-to-door, which he learned in his school board run. He has been to Brackenridge, Springdale, Cheswick and Oakmont — all new to the district — and says he has found residents favorable to his campaign and welcoming his message on jobs and energy and tax reform.

“With all the river communities, the issue is jobs,” he said. “We've had a long decline since the demise of the steel industry. I'm running for jobs for our kids. I really see the current crop of politicians and leadership selling out our kids.”

Lessmann said he is unique in being “untethered” to any special interests or groups, “even my own party,” which he said is not supporting him financially.

“It's a real opportunity for those in the district complaining about special interests to really get a fresh and new face and what I call a new vision,” he said. “We believe we're the sleeper election here.”

Doyle represented part of the Alle-Kiski Valley when he was first elected and from 1994 to 2002, when it was the 18th Congressional District.

“It's territory that I'm very familiar with,” he said.

Doyle said the concerns of Alle-Kiski Valley residents aren't much different from those in the Mon Valley, the eastern suburbs and Pittsburgh itself.

“Jobs in this economy continues to overwhelmingly be what's on people's minds. They want to see the country progress and move forward. They're tired of gridlock and partisanship. They expect us to work together and work in a way that grows the middle class and protects the working class in this country,” he said.

Doyle said he is looking forward to representing the Alle-Kiski Valley area “with the same intensity I represent the rest of my district.”

“Those who don't know me, they will,” he said.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or brittmeyer@tribweb.com.

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