A conservative voice that resonates
After November 2012, the Republican National Committee did a postmortem. It was clear that the GOP needed to be more welcoming to younger voters, more diverse in its ranks and more effective in articulating conservative principles to groups disaffected with the Democrats but unwilling to go Republican.
Unfortunately, the top of the ticket this year (Donald Trump) fails in all those objectives. And yet, in an election year that has become a nightmare for conservatives, they have a choice here in Western Pennsylvania, smack in the middle of Pittsburgh.
Lenny McAllister is known to many in this area from his face and voice on PCNC and KDKA. Some might recall the 44-year-old as the first black quarterback at Central Catholic High School, following Dan Marino and Marc Bulger, before going on to play baseball at Davidson College and spreading his wings in the Southeast and Chicago.
This genuine change agent (to borrow a term from the Obama/progressive playbook) is looking to enact real change, but not for the Democrats. McAllister is hoping to change the image, tone and outlook of the Republican Party, starting in our backyard, which would go a long way toward the RNC's 2012 “autopsy” goals. He is challenging Rep. Mike Doyle in Pennsylvania's 14th Congressional District, a seat unchanged since the end of the Cold War.
It isn't hype to say McAllister is a rising star in the conservative movement. CPAC jumped to get him on the big stage in February, and the annual Pennsylvania Leadership Conference did the same in April. They wanted him in Cleveland, too.
RNC organizers in Cleveland craved McAllister's message of “conservatism with inclusion and diversity,” especially given Trump's image.
McAllister is his own man. He became a single dad at 21, dropping out of college. He became a janitor at Kmart, a deli clerk at Giant Eagle and a data processor at Manpower to provide for his daughter before becoming a self-taught computer programmer and getting a full-time job at Mellon Bank. He married a woman equally resilient, a survivor of “gun violence” (a polite way to put it) and domestic abuse. He survived a horrific home invasion 15 years ago while returning to Davidson to finish his degree. And he became a caretaker when his father was shot and hospitalized for a year.
Again, he's his own man. But the Trump people in Cleveland wanted a parade of servile surrogates to prostrate themselves before the casino mogul. McAllister was unwilling.
So, McAllister is sticking to Pittsburgh and his principles.
The pro-life Catholic is reaching beyond typical Republican constituencies. He describes himself as an “urban-focused Republican” who's “capable of building relationships” on the streets as well as in affluent suburbs. He attended Shady Side Academy as a teen and he has served as a youth minister to incarcerated males. He thinks the conservative vision works for both sides. It's a matter of communication.
“Most urban Americans feel that liberal policies and a lot of the conservative tone aren't working for them,” McAllister told me, describing himself as “a bridge-builder, not a bomb-thrower.”
The Penn Hills native says “diversity does not mean being less conservative.” In a Reaganesque style, he's looking to be a winsome and persuasive conservative capable of winning independent and center-left voters.
Will it work in November against Mike Doyle? We'll see. But in Lenny McAllister, conservatives have a choice, not an echo.
Paul Kengor is a professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include “11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative.”