The Lead

Erie County Democrat Jim Wertz launches challenge to state Sen. Dan Laughlin

By: - December 6, 2023 10:01 pm

(Photo via Jim Wertz campaign)

Jim Wertz, former chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party, has launched his campaign for the 49th state Senate District.

“I’ve spent the last six years helping other people run and trying to make Erie County a place where our candidates can be successful,” Wertz said in a campaign video posted on social media. “But the issues that are on the table right now are too important.”

“This campaign is about preserving democracy, fighting for working families, and ensuring public education for all,” Wertz added.

GOP state Sen. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) is currently in his second term representing the 49th District, which includes most of Erie County. 

Laughlin told WJET-TV that he respects Wertz and welcomes a civil campaign, although he accused the challenger of having information on his campaign website that isn’t “fact-based,” specifically pointing to charges that Laughlin is “anti-choice” and an “election denier.” In 2021, Laughlin stated to WHYY that although he’s “fairly pro-life on a personal level,” he is in favor of Pennsylvania’s current abortion laws. Laughlin also did not sign on to the GOP letter in 2020 to deny the election results. 

In addition to the issues he mentions in the campaign video, Wertz’s campaign issues page notes his support of abortion rights, saying he supports a constitutional amendment that protects the right to choose. 

Wertz most recently served as the Erie County Democratic Party Chairman from 2018 until November, which sparked speculation about his interest in running for the state Senate. 

According to a press release from Wertz’s campaign, he has more than 20 endorsements from former and current local elected officials across Erie County. 

As chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party, Wertz says, he helped turn the county blue in 2020, when Joe Biden bested Donald Trump by 1 point, just four years after Trump carried the county over Hillary Clinton. 

In 2022, Democrats handily won Erie County in statewide contests over Republicans, with Josh Shapiro beating Doug Mastriano by 21.6 points in the governor’s race, and John Fetterman winning over Mehmet Oz by 9.5 points for U.S. Senate.

However, in last month’s election, Republican Carolyn Carluccio won Erie County over Democrat Dan McCaffery by just under 1 point

Wertz was also previously a union broadcaster and production manager for local Erie news, founding his own production company before becoming a journalism and digital media teacher at Edinboro University. He’s served in various leadership positions with the faculty union and university administration. 

The contest could be a key one for  Pennsylvania Democrats in 2024, as they try to flip the state Senate. 

According to PennLive, Biden carried the new boundaries for the 49th District by 2.4 points over Trump in 2020. Under the district’s old boundaries in 2020, Laughlin defeated Democrat Julie Slomski by just under 20 points.

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John Cole
John Cole

John Cole is a journalist based in Philadelphia. He's worked for various outlets such as The Northeast Times, PoliticsPA, and PCN. In these previous roles, he covered a wide range of topics from local civic association meetings to races across the commonwealth. He earned a degree in journalism from Temple University.

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