Missa Eaton is in Pittsburgh fundraising for her PA3 congressional run and trying to make the case she can knock off freshman U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Butler. After redistricting the locus of the seat has shifted slightly south, gobbling up all of growing Butler County, and away from the Democratic stronghold of Erie, the home to congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper, whom Kelly beat in the 2010 midterm wave.
Eaton, a 49-year-old psychology professor from Sharon, was a volunteer for Dahlkemper on both of her campaigns, but she has some differences with the usual conservative brand of Western Pennsylvania Democrat. Unlike PA12's Mark Critz or Larry Maggi, the challenger to Tim Murphy in PA18, she supports abortion rights; is on the record supporting Barack Obama's reelection; and supports the president's health care reform bill. (Dahlkemper was among the last Dems to push the bill over the finish line, which became a major theme in the 2010 campaign.)
The package was necessary to address the mounting costs of treating uninsured patients, she says, which create financial nightmares for hospitals like UMPC-Hamot in Erie and are endangering hospital facilities elsewhere in the state's northwest. (The district represents all of Armstrong, Butler and Mercer counties, and parts of Clarion, Crawford, Erie and Lawrence.)
"We had to do something. It was a good first step," she said in an interview this morning. "Like every bill it had unintended consequences. I don't see this Congress doing anything about it."
Which brings her to Kelly, a well-known car dealer who courted Tea Party voters and was a vocal Obama critic in his successful 2010 campaign. (Not to mention being an early sparring partner with pre-scandal Anthony Weiner.) She plans (like Democrats nationwide) to criticize his support US Rep. Paul Ryan's budget, saying it would endanger Social Security and Medicaid, and argue he is out of touch with blue-collar voters (he's the 21st richest member of Congress).
"He has made hard to the right votes [that appeal to] a narrow demographic. He's given moderates and independents no reason to vote for him again," she said.
Republican mapmakers remade a 3rd District that not only removed a chunk of Erie but swallowed up all of Kelly's home base in Butler County. (Visiting polls on primary day, Eaton said she met a number of voters who mistakenly thought they could vote in the well-publicized Altmire-Critz race.) That also means the district has solidified its place in the Pittsburgh media market, which is more expensive than the Erie market and all the more reason she has to boost her fundraising to introduce herself to voters.
She is starting a long way back from Kelly. A proven self-funder, he entered April with almost $310,000 in campaign cash to the $16,000 for Eaton. She is resigning her professorship at Penn State Shenango to focus full-time on campaigning, which for now means trips like today's south to Pittsburgh.