Allegheny County GOP chief D. Raja steps down |

Allegheny County GOP chief D. Raja steps down

Natasha Lindstrom
Phil Pavely | Tribune-Review file
D. Raja of Mt. Lebanon speaks to supporters in Green Tree on Nov. 8, 2011, when he ran for Allegheny County Chief Executive. Rich Fitzgerald defeated him.

The Allegheny County GOP’s chief is stepping down months after losing a bid for the state Senate.

D. Raja, chairman of the Allegheny County Republican Committee, on Friday submitted his resignation, effective June 29 or sooner.

Committee leaders credited Raja with providing “critical ground support for the election of President Trump,” increasing the number of registered Republicans countywide and setting fundraising records during his three years as chair, an unpaid position.

The 53-year-old Mt. Lebanon resident said his departure shouldn’t come as a surprise.

“I never intended to run again at the end of my term,” Raja told the Tribune-Review by phone Friday night. He said his predecessor, Jim Roddey, similarly left the county GOP post a few months before his term ended when Raja took the helm three years ago. Rodney resigned in February 2016.

Among achievements that committee leaders credited to Raja’s tenure:

• Committee membership grew by 150 percent since 2016, up to 721 members

• 17,000 more people in Allegheny County registered as Republicans

• Committee coffers have about $70,000 cash on hand.

To boost registration, the committee said that, last year alone, its volunteers knocked on more than 200,000 doors and placed 275,000 phone calls. They “re-invigorated” local Republican groups in places such as Fox Chapel, Quaker Valley, Dravosburg, Kennedy, Foward, Castle Shannon, Scott, Oakdale, Dormont and Pine, committee leaders said in a statement. They also reached voters through data-based programs and apps, and provided customized websites to a dozen Republican municipal committees for free.

Republicans retained seven state House seats in Allegheny County last year, and the committee now is fielding write-in candidates to compete for county executive and controller, according to Raja.

“Despite a challenging environment, I believe our efforts and positive results will speak for themselves,” Raja said in a news release about his decision. “I thought it was important to wait until after the May 21st primary to make this announcement.”

The committee also thanked Raja for helping to attract high-profile speakers such as Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump. Conway was the headliner at the committee’s annual fundraising dinner in spring of last year. Conway used the stage to stump for Trump-backed candidate Rick Saccone, who was defeated by rising Democrat and Marine veteran U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb. Lamb secured a seat in Congress in November.

RELATED: Kellyanne Conway headlines Allegheny County GOP dinner

A longtime political operative in the region, Raja moved to Western Pennsylvania from his native country of India 32 years ago, and later co-founded the software company CEI, or Computer Enterprises Inc., out of a spare bedroom in his South Hills apartment. The company, now based in Robinson, has grown to more than 500 employees nationwide.

He’s a former Mt. Lebanon commissioner and has run unsuccessfully for higher offices on multiple occasions — including for Allegheny County Executive and twice for the 37th State Senate District seat. Most recently, he lost a special election in April to Democrat Pam Iovino, a Navy veteran and Veterans Affairs appointee under George W. Bush.

Observers had suggested that race could be an early test of President Donald Trump’s strength ahead of his 2020 reelection bid in a critical battleground state. The seat is in territory historically influenced by Republican-leaning neighborhoods but has been viewed as increasingly friendly to Democrats.

Raja thinks his bid was hampered by unusually high turnout — upwards of 60,000 when he was expecting about 40,000 — that amplified the voices of Democratic-leaning pockets of the 37th State Senate District.

“It was hard to overcome the Mt. Lebanon deficit,” he said.

With Iovino’s win against Raja, Democrats now need to flip just three more districts from red to blue to topple the GOP majority in the Pennsylvania Senate in 2020.

Defending Republican seats in the state General Assembly should be a top priority for the committee, in addition to galvanizing support for Trump in the presidential election — “especially in the suburbs,” Raja said.

Raja said he phoned committee Solicitor Ron Hicks Friday to inform him of his plan to resign, and Hicks asked that he stick around until the end of June to allow time to arrange for a committee election to decide who will take his place.

In a statement, President Pro Tempore Sen. Joseph Scarnati said that Raja “represents the very best of the Republican Party.”

“He exemplifies exactly what our Party needs to grow and succeed in the future,” Scarnati said. “He will be missed in his leadership role as RCAC chair, but I’m hopeful this will not be his last assignment.”

Raja said he has no imminent plans to run for another political office.

“I intend to be involved, just not exactly sure yet what it is,” said Raja. He continues to serve on several boards, including the board of directors that oversees the Port Authority of Allegheny County, and may look into teaching.

He also is eager to spend more time with his family, including his wife, Neeta, an internal medicine doctor, and his two daughters — one who’s just starting college in San Diego, another who’s just starting high school.

RELATED: D. Raja concedes, Democrat Pam Iovino takes 37th state Senate seat

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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