Not long ago, Erin McClelland was an unknown political newcomer.
Now she is a nominee in a U.S. House of Representatives race.
The transformation became complete on May 20 when the Allegheny County resident defeated retired Marine Corps Col. John Hugya by a vote total of 32,971 to 15,547, earning the Democratic Party nod in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District.
“Now that we’ve won the primary with the margin we had, it’s opening up a whole new world for us, everything from D.C., lots of fundraising,” McClelland said during a visit to The Tribune-Democrat on Wednesday.
Hugya, a Somerset County resident, is a political veteran, having served on U.S. Rep. John Murtha’s staff from 1987 until 2010.
Party leaders in Washington, D.C., did not get involved much during the primary.
“When you’re up against somebody that is obviously a former staffer for Congressman Murtha, they want to see how that’s going to go,” said McClelland. “They know there’s 30 years of name recognition. They want to see if you got what it takes, and I think we proved that we did. And, I’m a first-time candidate, so I had a lot to prove, and I think that number we put up did it, so I’m happy.”
McClelland is now running against U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, a first-term congressman, in the general election.
“We’re really talking a lot about what he’s offering versus what I’m offering,” McClelland said.
“It’s not just about one person being bad and one being good. It’s about these are our problems, what’s he offering for them and what am I offering for them.
“I’m offering a very comprehensive understanding of a lot of our greatest problems, and I’m offering policy solutions that will solve them at their root cause and save a lot of time, headache and money for future generations, and that’s not what he’s doing.”
Even during the primary, McClelland concentrated on running against Rothfus more than against Hugya.
“From the day I jumped in the race, I was running against (Rothfus). Absolutely, because that’s why I jumped in this race,” McClelland said.
“It wasn’t to go up against whoever was against me in the primary. It was because this is not a Rockefeller Republican.
“This is not somebody that has a single solution to any of our problems. This is somebody who did one of the most irresponsible things you can do as an elected official and that’s sign the Americans for Tax Reform pledge, which is basically saying, I’m a coward, I don’t make tough decisions, I don’t look at data, I don’t look at numbers, I will make the same ideological decision every time, and that disgusted me.”
McClelland, the director of an orthomolecular addiction treatment program, has made health care a central issue in her campaign.
She weighed in on the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. The court ruled that closely held for-profit businesses with religious objections to certain contraception do not need to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.
“The Affordable Care Act has sort of been a game-changer for everybody,” McClelland said.
“The fact is, they made their decision. The Affordable Care Act will help cover some of those costs now, so all the religious right is doing is driving people to run to the Affordable Care Act.
“That’s what that decision did. ... It’s driving people who want those services because the government has decided that an employer can change the way the free market provides those services. They’ll just drive them to the Affordable Care Act and they’ll get it through that process.”
Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @Dave_Sutor.