Western Pa.'s ties to 2016 White House race extend beyond Santorum
Rick Santorum isn't the only 2016 presidential aspirant with Western Pennsylvania ties.
As a former U.S. senator, Santorum's Butler County upbringing and years at Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh are well known.
Not so well known, perhaps, are the Pittsburgh-area backgrounds of John Kasich, Rand Paul, Martin O'Malley and Carly Fiorina, whose husband, Frank, has family in Penn Hills.
“My family's Pittsburgh roots and values certainly shaped me,” Paul said. “These were hardworking people who understood the value of the dollar, having a family budget and hard work.”
President James Buchanan is the only Pennsylvanian to hold the office, but with five hopefuls among 21 announced or likely candidates tracing roots to the state, that could change.
Politicians often highlight parts of their biographies that resonate with average Americans, said presidential historian Joel Goldstein of St. Louis University. For candidates with blue-collar upbringings, those narratives write themselves, he said.
“It's sort of the rags-to-riches story, or American dream — an image that's powerful so that you can show you retain your connection with common people, even though you've been successful,” Goldstein said.
John Kasich: Elizabeth Avenue, Stowe
McCoy Road begins at the base of a hill, sloping upward past brick bungalows and neighborhood stores, and eventually winding through the patchwork of homes where Ohio Gov. John Kasich grew up, near McKees Rocks.
Kasich, 63, a Republican, graduated from Sto-Rox High School in 1970. The blocks of his childhood neighborhood offer a glimpse into the blue-collar suburbia he proudly describes during interviews and speeches.
Kasich's childhood home looks much the same as it did 50 years ago: trimmed lawn, a squat hedge buffering the front porch. A white front door and railings contrast with the orange brick exterior.
The neighborhood, brimming with working-class families during the 1950s and '60s, offered a “very typical and wonderful childhood,” said federal Judge David Cercone, Kasich's lifelong friend.
They met in first grade in Dewitt C. Fenton Elementary School. Classmates knew early on that Kasich had an aptitude for politics.
“I have friends that still talk about how John and I used to debate issues,” Cercone said. “I was for Hubert Humphrey, and John was inclined to be for Nixon in '68.”
Kasich said his upbringing taught him the value of hard work and pragmatic problem-solving: “If you are from Pittsburgh, you don't mince words.”
Some of Kasich's favorite restaurants remain in business, Cercone said. They'd stop for a fish sandwich in the Norwood Inn on McCoy Road on the way home from church and high school, or meet friends for hamburgers and milkshakes in the Chartiers Road Eat'n Park.
Kasich cites the Oyster House in Market Square as another favorite.
“Ah, that Oyster House. They had the best fish sandwiches,” he said.
Rand Paul: Seneca Road, Bethel Park
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has memories of toddling around his family's three bedroom ranch home in Bethel Park and visiting his grandparents in Dormont. The family lived on Seneca Road until Paul was 5.
“When we visited my grandparents in Dormont, we thought we were going to the Land of Oz because of all of the yellow brick roads,” said Paul, 52, a Republican. He recalls marveling at the gigantic community pool.
His parents, Ron and Carol, met as students in Dormont High School and moved to Bethel Park for Ron Paul's medical residency at Magee-Womens Hospital in Oakland. The family relocated to Texas in 1968.
Paul said he rooted for the Steelers and Pirates even after the family moved, and he lists Roberto Clemente and Lynn Swann among his childhood icons.
“The era when I was the biggest fan was in the '70s, and that might have been the best era for the Pirates and the Steelers.”
Nearly 40 years later, new people populate Seneca Road's homes. But Jean Smith, 93, still lives in the brick house where her children grew up decades ago. “I played bridge with Rand's mother, Carol,” Smith said, “and we still exchange Christmas cards.”
Smith said her daughter baby-sat the four Paul children. She remembers “Randy” as sweet and cheerful.
Until last July, the Pauls' former home was owned by the family who purchased it in 1968. Then Steve and Stacey Ott bought what had become a rundown house on a large lot with the intention of renovating it. The Otts, who lived down the street for 18 years, didn't know the Pauls once owned the property.
Martin O'Malley: Nixon Street, Manchester
There is an empty corner lot amid Nixon Street's overgrown properties and flat-faced brick rowhouses. That lot is all that's left of the home where two-term Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's father grew up.
Large Irish families filled Manchester rentals during Thomas O'Malley's Great Depression-era childhood. Today, vacant lots and empty houses, some with boarded windows and ivy crawling unchecked up exterior walls, dot Nixon Street.
Thomas O'Malley spent summers working in the steel mills and graduated from North Catholic High School. He enlisting in the Army Air Corps in 1942, Martin O'Malley said.
O'Malley, a Democrat, grew up in Washington but visited his grandparents' Pittsburgh home, an experience that connected him to his roots, he said.
“What I learned from my parents, and I take with me in my run for president, is that blue-collar work ethic that is part of the greatness of our country,” he said.
Carly Fiorina: Althea Drive, Penn Hills
Long before Frank Fiorina met his wife, Republican presidential candidate and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, he was a kid in Penn Hills, helping with his father's appliance repair business and attending St. Bartholomew Elementary School.
Fiorina, 65, a retired AT&T executive, said his father, who died in 1963, taught him to work hard and keep high standards. If an elderly client couldn't pay for a repair, Fiorina's father would fix the appliance anyway, he said.
“When he died, my mother had a filing cabinet of bills people owed us money on that he never bothered to collect,” he said.
The brick bungalow his father built is perched on Althea Drive's steep incline. The neighborhood used to be rural, but farmland gave way to suburban sprawl. The family sold the house, now owned by WAP Properties LLC, when Fiorina's mother died in 2008.
Fiorina said he visits his two sisters in Pittsburgh and stops at Mt. Carmel Catholic Cemetery, where family members are buried.
He proposed to his wife, then Carly Sneed, in his mother's driveway in 1984, with “my daughter bouncing up and down in the back seat encouraging me,” he said. It was the second marriage for both, and they wed in 1985.
During a visit five years ago, Carly Fiorina surprised her husband with a 60th birthday party in Station Square.
“Pittsburgh is still one of my favorite cities in the world,” Fiorina said.
Katherine Schaeffer is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7832 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writer Salena Zito contributed.