PITTSBURGH — For the first time in 11 years, Western Pennsylvania voters will have a chance to put a Republican woman in Congress. However, the one woman running for the seat wants nothing to do with running on her gender or on identity politics.
"I am running to help create jobs and opportunity for the district, to offer real solutions in how we approach the opioid crisis and for passing President Trump's agenda items. That is why people should vote for me, not because I also happen to be a woman," Kim Ward said in a rapid fire list of the issues she says are part of her platform.
Ward — a Pennsylvania state senator representing Westmoreland County — is one of several Republicans and Democrats who have lined up for a special election whose date has not been determined, but could be held as soon as December.
All are vying for the seat held by Rep. Tim Murphy, of the 18th District, who announced he's resigning from Congress after revelations of an extramarital affair included alleged texts between him and his mistress showed him urging her to get an abortion.
The void created by Murphy's fall has led to a rare opportunity for Western Pennsylvania voters to participate in an open congressional race. The three other members of the local Western Pennsylvania delegation, Reps. Mike Kelly, Mike Doyle, and Keith Rothfus, all hold a firm grip on their seats.
The last woman to hold a congressional seat from Pennsylvania was Democrat Allyson Schwartz of suburban Philadelphia, who retired in 2014. The last Republican woman to hold a congressional seat in Pennsylvania was Melissa Hart of the northern Pittsburgh suburbs, who lost her seat during the wave of midterm elections in 2006.
Pennsylvania's 18th District is Trump country, and Ward, 60, who was an early supporter of the president's primary candidacy, is a staunch supporter of his policies and his outside-the-norm persona.
"He is who he is, and the people of this district voted for him steadfastly," she said.
The district is fairly red. It gave Trump nearly 60 percent of the vote last November despite the six point Democratic registration advantage in the district. But in fairness, many of those Democrats are registered in name only and have swung away from the Democratic Party since 2000.
Ward worked her way up from volunteer to Westmoreland County chair for Rick Santorum's successful 1994 campaign for U.S. Senate. She eventually ran on her own as a township supervisor in her hometown, then joined Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker's staff when he took over for Gov. Tom Ridge after 9/11.
Ward went on to run and win the Westmoreland County commissioner race, the first woman in three decades to hold the seat, and finally a State Senate seat. It was a grueling and expensive race entered when the sitting senator dropped out of the race two months before the election.
Ward sat down with the Washington Examiner just days after she joined the race. She says Congress is not getting enough done and is dropping the ball on Trump's agenda.
Washington Examiner: Why do you want this job?
Ward: I really think that we can do better. We need to send some folks to D.C. who will fight to help the president get his agenda through, the agenda that he ran on, the agenda that we won on. And I have a record of fighting, and grabbing your ankle, and not letting go until we accomplish what we set out to do. And that is, really, the big reason I'm running when I see what's happening and nothing is getting accomplished.
There are some really important issues out there that the president wants to address. That we can't get to an agreement on, such as immigration, which I support him on. We also do need to replace the Affordable Care Act, and do so by putting back in some of the parts that are good, like insurance for 26-year-olds under the parents' policy and retaining that you cannot be denied healthcare if you have a pre-existing condition. Those are positive things. And we need to replace the system with something that works better, and we should be able to sit down and hammer that out.
Washington Examiner: Everyone says they are running on job-creating. What makes you stand out?
Ward: I'm the co-chair of the manufacturing caucus in the state legislature, and we hear continuously when we go out to do hearings and meet with businesses that they're so afraid that they're not going to have the skilled workers that they need to have to fill these jobs. We have great opportunities in our country with energy. We have shale. We have coal. We need the workers to be able to fill those positions and produce that energy and we need to train them to take those jobs. And that is a gap politicians rarely address, but is very important for our emerging work force. My dad learned the trade walking on the shop floor. That doesn't happen anymore. You need to know what you're doing, and you need to be smart to fill these jobs. So, that's really important that we train our workers, and that we support the industries that produce these great jobs like coal and shale.
Washington Examiner: Why should tax reform matter to the voters in the 18th District?
Ward: Well, as we all know, businesses create jobs. When we overburden them with regulations and taxes — those regulations and taxes all trickle down to their workers and their consumers. So, it matters to everyone. If these folks are overtaxed and overregulated, we don't have the jobs that we should have, and we pay higher prices.
You know, I hate it when we see these jobs and these factories moving overseas. And nothing is more irritating than calling in for help to a good, American company and getting someone from another country trying to help you.
Tax reform is important to our overall economy, and how many jobs those businesses can create, and how can they grow. And it's important to families. You know, you always keep hearing: "Oh, they're going to cut the taxes on the rich." Well, families struggle every day. They need jobs. And companies create jobs. People are just trying to get from one paycheck to another.
Washington Examiner: The president's tweets seem to always raise the ire of the Washington establishment, but you are from a region that overwhelmingly voted for Trump. What are your thoughts about his tweets and his presidency?
Ward: The tweets work for him, and he has managed to go around the mainstream media, and he effectively gets his message out. It isn't that complicated; it is really that simple. He does his own thing, and it's working for him.
Here, I think, is what people don't get about him: He connects with people. In his tweets, well, sometimes you'll say, "Why did he tweet that?" Guess what, they like it. They like it. They feel like they know him. He's not like somebody they can never reach, like you may think of a president. They associate with him, and he does a great job of keeping that avenue open.
I spoke at several of his rallies during the campaign here in Pennsylvania, and I remember the last event he did here in Pittsburgh, out at the airport, he was very late because he was doing five or six events that day. And he walked off the plane, and he had on a long trench coat and a "Make America Great" hat, and I looked at him and thought, "That's what they like." He is a person. To voters around here, they feel like they might know him. I feel like I know him. If I saw him on the street, I feel like he's approachable. And I think he really connected with a lot of people in the nation that way.