State Rep.elect Matthew Dowling continues to savor his election night victory.
The sea of Republican red that washed over Fayette County on election day paved the way for the small Uniontown business owner to overcome the odds of besting an incumbent Democrat.
Dowling said that all along he was cognizant it would be an uphill battle to unseat veteran and popular lawmaker — state Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-South Union Twp. — when he set out on his first political journey.
However, it had been done before.
County transition to GOP
In 2014 with the retirement of iconic Democrat state Sen. Richard A. Kasunic, the local stage was set for political newcomers to emerge. Then-Democratic state Rep. Deberah Kula opted to seek the senatorial seat, with many believing she would have no problem moving into the position. However, Fayette County businessman and community leader Pat Stefano, a Republican, stepped forward to challenge Kula and won. At the same time, Republican Ryan Warner won a place on the ballot and squared off with a well-known
Democratic leader, Perry Township Supervisor A.J. Boni for Kula’s representative’s seat. Warner was victorious in his first political bid and won a second term by defeating Democrat James Mari in last week’s general election.
Last year, the county commission moved from a Democratic majority to a Republican majority with Dave Lohr joining fellow Republican Angela M. Zimmerlink on the board.
With the foundation set, Dowling had many reasons to be optimistic.
Dowling enters the race
As he looked at the demographics and how, in his opinion, the county had not flourished under the leadership of the Democrat Party, Dowling said he saw an opportunity and seized it. “I think this year — more than any — citizens were interested in new blood and new ideas,” he said. “I was personally extremely frustrated during the (2015 state) budget standoff that lasted six months.” While his nonprofit business employer was not substantially harmed by the impasse, Dowling said he was cognizant of agencies that were in jeopardy of providing needed services for senior citizens and others. “School districts had to take out a line of credit because of the budget standoff,” he said. “I think we could have come to a better and quicker solution.” Dowling said that he also saw the success of Stefano, R-Bullskin Township, and Warner, R-Perryopolis, in their efforts to elicit aid from Harrisburg for their constituencies, despite their short time in office. With the support of his family, the GOP community and his two mentors, Dowling embarked on his challenge to defeat Mahoney who was seeking a sixth term as the 51st Legislative District representative. He seized on what he saw as Mahoney’s shortfalls. “Rep. Mahoney had become — in some ways — a one-issue candidate,” said Dowling of Mahoney’s push for school consolidation. “We needed to look at other issues as well.” While not opposed to consideration of some consolidation of services, Dowling said an all-encompassing
measure is not feasible. “School boards should come together and figure that out for themselves,” he said.
As he knocked on the doors of those within the district, Dowling said he found that residents, too, were concerned about other issues, including the drug epidemic and the shortage of jobs. Although he had to sell himself to the constituency, Dowling credits his successful campaign to those that guided him through political maze like Stefano,
Warner and Somerset County state Rep. Carl Metzgar, along with the state GOP and the House Republican Campaign Committee, which offered financial help. “The Commonwealth Partners of Entrepreneurs were involved in the race using individual expenditures, meaning they were placing signs, paying for online advertising, and even running radio commercials without coordination or knowledge of the campaign,” he said. “Grassroots efforts, such as door knocking, sign coordination, phone banking, and coalition organization was handled by the Fayette and Somerset Republican Committees, and some 80 individual volunteers, many of whom had no previous involvement in political campaigns.”
Dowling, himself, visited or called upon 10,000 residents during the months leading up to the election. Volunteers made 4,000 calls, mailed 7,000 letters on behalf of the campaign, with ProLife volunteers distributing 2,500 pieces of literature just days before voters went to the polls.
“While much has been said about the mail pieces paid for by the Republican Party of PA, this campaign had a great deal of support at the grassroots level,” said Dowling. “It would have been impossible to share the message of my campaign without all involved.”
Efforts show results In early October, Dowling said the campaign began to see a shift as likely voters began to tie his name to the race. The needed connection was made,
he said, but would it translate into a win? “I knew our campaign had done everything it could, and made every contact possible,” he said. “Running a campaign is like a job interview. We made our case the best we could. “It was now going to be up to the voters to make the decision.” The 51st Legislative District includes portions of Fayette and Somerset counties. Mahoney took Fayette County by a 10,148 to 9,989 vote, with Dowling overcoming the deficit in neighboring Somerset County and adding to the total count. According to unofficial results, Dowling secured 3,282 votes to Mahoney’s 1,573 ballots.
Blue to red Warner, meanwhile, said the overwhelming Republican win developed at the federal level and trickled down to the state level as voters became weary of
the liberal agenda touted by the Democrats. “Whether it be Gov. (Tom) Wolf’s proposal for the largest tax increase in the history of Pennsylvania or President (Barack) Obama and (former) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s public war against coal and natural gas, (those agendas) do not align with southwestern Pennsylvania,” said Warner.
“Most residents in Fayette and Westmoreland counties are conservative and believe in traditional American values. “They are not going to back a candidate, or a party, that supports and advocates for illegal immigration, supports higher taxes on the working class, supports jobcrushing regulations from the EPA (federal Environmental Protection Agency) or attacks our Second Amendment rights.”
Ready to serve
Dowling, meanwhile, said the outcome not only gave him the win, but also a mandate to make a difference. When he goes to Harrisburg, Dowling said he will focus on the two major issues of concern of those that elected him to office. “(Concerning the drug issue) I think that comes down to funding law enforcement,” he said. “And, we need to find the best way to provide treatment. “When it comes to the drug epidemic, I don’t think there is going to be a one size fits all approach. “It is going to be an uphill fight that is going to take awhile (to address).” Dowling added that the discussions with the residents revealed, too, that a level of corruption exists because of the long-domination of the Democratic
Party, and it must end. “There are effective people in office that deserve to be reelected,”
he said. “I learned how hard it is to come in as a newcomer and try to get someone’s
ear.” He found that in some instances, the barriers could not be broken.
“I had people that were afraid to donate to my campaign,” he said. “We need to clean up any corruption that exists out there.” Dowling will go to Harrisburg on Dec. 1 to begin the transition process. He will take the oath of office on Jan. 3.