Democrats seek to address confusion over ‘Mike Doyle’ in 12th Congressional District race

Democratic Congressman Mike Doyle (left) is retiring after 14 terms representing the Pittsburgh area. State House Rep. Summer Lee (center) won the Democratic nomination to replace him; she is running against Republican Mike Doyle, a Plum Borough Councilor (right). (Matt Nemeth / Rebecca Droke / Doyle Campaign
/ WESA / AP / Doyle Campaign)

Democratic Congressman Mike Doyle (left) is retiring after 14 terms representing the Pittsburgh area. State House Rep. Summer Lee (center) won the Democratic nomination to replace him; she is running against Republican Mike Doyle, a Plum Borough Councilor (right). (Matt Nemeth / Rebecca Droke / Doyle Campaign / WESA / AP / Doyle Campaign)

This story originally appeared on WESA.

Democratic Congressman Mike Doyle will announce his retirement later today — again — in an effort to head off confusion about who exactly is on the ballot this fall for the seat he has long held in Congress.

“I feel an obligation to make sure that people understand that my term expires at the end of the year, that I am not seeking reelection — but there is someone that has the same name as me on the ballot,” Doyle said.

Doyle’s decision not to seek re-election was widely reported last fall. But he’ll reaffirm it again because the ballot for his 12th District seat still has his name on it … although this time it belongs to Mike Doyle, a Republican insurance executive who has long served on the borough council in Plum.

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The incumbent Doyle said that news stories about the race have generally noted the two men are different. But the race has received little scrutiny since state House Rep. Summer Lee won a hotly contested Democratic primary. And in any case, Doyle said, “There’s a lot of people that aren’t glued to the television, radio or newspapers. But they see a name that looks familiar, and I wouldn’t want this race to turn on confusion.”

Indeed what seemed like a joke or a Republican stunt at first has become a source of increasing concern for Democrats.

Katie Forsythe, a member of Westmoreland County’s Democratic Committee, said she has encountered the confusion at a handful of doors she has been knocking on behalf of Lee and the rest of the Democratic slate in recent days.

“They say, ‘I’m not going to vote for Summer Lee because she’s running against Mike Doyle,’” she said. At that point, her job becomes “just trying to inform them that Mike Doyle is not who they think that he is. He’s the GOP candidate. He’s not the current person who is holding that office.”

Forsythe said she’s encountered the confusion only a few times, but she said she worries it may afflict voters she hasn’t spoken to at the door. And she said the confusion appears to be a new phenomenon. Her part of Westmoreland County was added to Doyle’s district as part of a recent redrawing of district lines, and she said through this summer the big challenge was “informing voters that they were in the 12th District. So now it’s more or less saying, ‘No, Summer Lee is not running against the person who is in office. She’s running against someone else.’”

The challenge, Forsythe said, is that the race has received little attention compared to other contests on the ballot: “There’s not been a lot in our local news, there’s not been a lot in our papers. So I understand voters’ confusion.”

The Republican Mike Doyle doesn’t always identify himself as such. While he bills himself as “the right Mike,” his lawn signs don’t identify him by party, and mentions of his affiliation are hard to come by on his website or even in his campaign announcement. But in an interview, he stressed that his campaign was neither a novelty act nor an attempt to deceive voters.

“A lot of people are having fun with the name, that’s for sure,” he said. “But I’m not running for the seat because the guy retiring just happens to be Mike Doyle, too. I think if my name was Bob, people would still have asked me to run.”

When the Republican Doyle’s name first surfaced in the spring, GOP insiders privately acknowledged that name recognition, however mistaken, might boost their chances combined with concern about Lee’s progressive voting record and a general election environment that looked tough for Democrats.

Indeed, political handicappers at the Cook Political Report shifted the race from “Solid Democrat” to “likely Democrat,” shortly after the primary, citing the new district’s inclusion of more conservative Westmoreland County, a tough election environment for Dems, and name confusion.

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Some of those factors may have waned with time: Thanks in part to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning constitutional guarantees of abortion rights, dire predictions for Democrats this fall have eased. And Lee maintains a robust campaign spending advantage over Doyle, having raised more than $1 million to Doyle’s $55,000, even though the National Republican Campaign Committee, which seeks to elect Republicans, put Doyle on a shortlist of races that could receive national support.

But such numbers may not fully capture the dynamic. For one thing, advertising in the adjoining 17th Congressional District race between Chris Deluzio and Jeremy Shaffer may have a spillover effect, as GOP ads have cited Deluzio’s support of Lee as proof that he is a “radical.”

Republican Doyle has a pair of decade-old runs for state representative to his name, and he notes that he has long served on the council of Plum Borough.

“I’m proud of that track record, and I’ve met a lot of people through the years,” he said.

It is difficult to gauge how widespread the confusion is, and voters in Westmoreland may be especially susceptible to it, given that they’ve already weathered changes to district lines.
But as incumbent Congressman Doyle notes, some confusion over his name might have been inevitable, given the prevalence of the name and Irish people in western Pennsylvania politics: “My grandfather was Mike Doyle, my dad was Mike Doyle, and my youngest son is Mike Doyle. I had a final picnic last Sunday, and at that picnic, there were three of us.”

Doyle said that when he first heard about the other Mike Doyle, “I at first thought, ‘Oh, nobody’s going to be fooled by that.’ But apparently there is some confusion going on, and the main concern for me is that we keep control of the seat.”

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