About 50 people turned out at the Smethport fire hall to hear Susan Boser and Wade Jodun, the candidates competing in the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania’s 15th district. The winner will likely face Republican incumbent Glenn Thompson in November.
The candidates spoke, answered questions and mingled with the McKean County voters.
Jodun said the night’s turnout out in a Republican stronghold shows people want to be heard. He pointed to the economy as a major issue.
“While the economy may be working for Wall Street, while it may be working for financiers, while there may be low unemployment, there is still chronic underemployment," Jodun said. "And that prosperity that Wall Street has seen has not come down to this local level, and folks are hurting and folks are struggling.”
Boser said she’s seeing excitement in the race all over the 15th district.
“Look at all the Democrats in McKean County," she said at the beginning of her talk.
She also said the economy is a priority.
“What’s happening here economically is not OK. Driving through up here on the way — Mount Jewett, empty storefronts one after the next, dusty, abandoned," she said. "You can’t have a lively vibrant community life if people can’t afford to raise their families there.”
The idea that rural areas are being left behind came up, along with the need for jobs and dealing with the opioid crisis.
James Heckman, who organized the Monday night event, thinks Republicans have left areas like Smethport behind.
“I think the Democrats have the best platform for areas like this, for working class people," Heckman said. "I think the Democrats have it.”
Marty Wilder, who lives near Bradford, said there’s been a gradual decline in communities’ populations, economies — even attitudes.
“The rural areas continue to be overlooked, and I think there is a disdain for Trump,” she said.
She said it’s a heavily Republican area, even more so after Pennsylvania’s recent redistricting.
“It’s going to be an uphill battle, there’s no doubt," Wilder said of the chance of a Democrat winning. "The last time I saw a Democrat elected in this region was after Watergate, and I think that people are just excited and worked up and concerned right now as they’ve ever been. I think they’re afraid of losing their country and I think they’re ready to fight for it.”
Judy Church, McKean County Democratic vice chair, said people are tired of what’s going on in Washington.
“Well, I think because of who’s in the White House we have a lot more enthusiasm and energy,” she said.
Clifford Lane, a Democratic McKean County Commissioner, said top issues include the opioid crisis, human services and gun laws.
“I’m a hunter and everything like that, but I don’t need an AR15 to shoot a deer, so I think there’s ways we can solve that," he said.
The 15th Congressional district is widely viewed as strongly Republican. It covers a large swath of western Pennsylvania, stretching from the New York state border down to Cambria County.
Lane said winning is a numbers game.
“It’s like any time when you run for election, you have to get your voters out," Lane said. "If you can get your voters out, anything is possible.”
The primary is May 15.