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MARS, Pa. (KDKA) — Democrat Ron DiNicola campaigned on Thursday in southern Butler County at the Mars Brew House, a coffee shop, just as a Susquehanna University poll shows him leading Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly by four points, 51 percent to 47 percent.
“Are you going to win this election?” KDKA political editor Jon Delano asked DiNicola in a sit-down interview.
“I think we are,” said the Democrat. “And I think we are because our message of cleaning up the corruption in Washington, working with the president where we can, putting the federal government back on the sides of western Pennsylvania families — those cities and towns that are fighting for sustainability — and building that new future. We can do that.”
DiNicola, an Erie native, is running in the new 16th Congressional District that stretches from Butler County through Lawrence, Mercer, Crawford and Erie counties.
So who’s DiNicola?
“My father came from Italy. He was an immigrant bricklayer. My mother was the first born of young Italian immigrants. They came here with a home and a dream and a suitcase, and they made America theirs. And they helped build it, and they sent their sons and daughters off to fight the wars and win the peace,” said DiNicola.
DiNicola himself is a former Marine, enlisting at age 17.
“Graduated first in my platoon at Paris Island, South Carolina, was the honor man in my platoon,” he said. “I was an amateur fighter growing up in the streets of Erie and continued that in the Marines and won the Marine Corps championship.”
After the military, he went to Harvard and Georgetown Law School before clerking for the chief federal judge in Pittsburgh.
“Have lived in Pittsburgh, enjoy Pittsburgh, support Pittsburgh teams,” said DiNicola.
To win, Democrat DiNicola, who opposes Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker, needs Trump voters, and he says they’re smart to back him.
“I’m actually there to clean up the swamp because I know that what western Pennsylvanians are most concerned about is that Congress isn’t getting anything done, that it’s corrupt, that it’s dysfunctional, that it’s ideologically paralyzed,” he said. “And as a Marine veteran, I think I bring a whole new set of skills.”
DiNicola’s biggest challenge in this area is that voters really don’t know him yet.
Kelly, who owns a car dealership in Butler and who KDKA political editor Jon Delano has interviewed a number of times, is much better known and has been a strong supporter of President Trump.
But if Democrats do really well on election night, this district north of Pittsburgh is one that pundits across the nation will be watching closely.