Kelly narrowly retains seat in Congress

ERIC POOLE | HeraldU.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, center, shakes hands with George Tucci, of Pine Township, as Ginny Richardson, chairwoman of the Mercer County Republican Party looks on. Kelly greeted Tucci, who arrived to cast his ballot Tuesday at the Grove City Armory in Pine Township, one of the congressman’s Election Day stops at polling locations throughout the five-county district.

PINE TOWNSHIP — On the final day of a tight re-election campaign, U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly finished with a whirlwind tour through the 16th Congressional District, including a stop in Mercer County.

As he arrived early Tuesday afternoon at the Grove City Armory in Pine Township with the outcome still in doubt, Kelly said he had gotten outstanding support from Mercer County Republicans, including Ginny Richardson, the county’s party chairwoman.

“You do the best you can do. You work as hard as you can, and no one worked harder than she has.” Kelly said as he gestured toward Richardson. “You do what you can do and you wait for the votes to come in.”

Mercer County played a key role Tuesday as Kelly won a fifth term in Congress. Unofficial totals had the Butler Republican ahead of Democratic challenger Ron DiNicola by almost 8,000 votes, 126,188 to 118,392.

But that margin came late in the night, after DiNicola built an early lead based on returns from his home base in Erie County. As returns came in from Mercer, Crawford and Butler counties, Kelly chipped away at the margin and finally pulled ahead with results from Lawrence County.

In Mercer County, Kelly finished with 21,931 votes to DiNicola’s 17,176. The results are unofficial until ratification by county election boards in the 16th District.

Kelly said he would work to build on what he said was economic progress initiated by policies of President Donald Trump, including his deregulation efforts and the 2017 tax cut package.

Even as the election approached, Kelly said he has been meeting and communicating with the U.S. Department of Commerce about Farrell-based NLMK Pennsylvania’s tariff exemption request. NLMK has been subject to tariffs on the foreign steel it uses in its operations.

Kelly prevailed in a race to represent a district that was redrawn this year by the state Supreme Court after it ruled that the state’s congressional districts had been gerrymandered in an extremely partisan manner to favor Republicans.

Under the previous alignment, Kelly represented a 3rd District that included part of Erie County and all of Mercer, Butler, Crawford, and Lawrence counties. The redrawn 16th District reunited Erie — DiNicola’s home base — and split Butler, where Kelly lives.

During the campaign, DiNicola heavily cited his service in the Marine Corps as well as his status as a Marine boxing champion and his work as an attorney and activist to preserve jobs at Erie’s General Electric locomotive plant and bringing a community college to northwestern Pennsylvania.

He acknowledged that the unemployment rate has been falling but said the work force increase has not translated to increasing wages.

DiNicola said he is proud of his campaign.

“We’re disappointed by the loss. We feel that we ran a good campaign,” he said. “I’m just very grateful for the opportunity to run for Congress. It’s an honor.”

This marked DiNicola’s third unsuccessful run for Congress, following a Democratic primary defeat in 1994 and a general election defeat two years later.

DiNicola said he had no immediate plans for another political run.

“I have a family, and I plan to spend more time with them,” he said.