Nelson withdraws from PA17 race, criticizes GOP establishment

He claimed his message was resonating with voters in the district, but did not receive local GOP support.

By: - November 22, 2023 2:29 pm

(Jim Nelson campaign photo)

Jim Nelson, a retired sheriff’s deputy and pastor, announced on Tuesday that he is withdrawing from the Republican race for Pa.’s 17th Congressional District.

Nelson made the announcement in an op-ed posted to TribLive criticizing the “local Republican Party leadership” and the other Republican running for the western Pennsylvania seat, state Rep. Rob Mercuri (R-Allegheny). 

“For any insiders or analysts who may be reading this, allow me to speak your language for a moment,” Nelson wrote in the op-ed. “My candidacy was also a well-thought-out and sharp political strategy: run a diverse, moderate candidate with no controversial voting record in a swing district to give Republicans a fighting chance at winning back a seat in Congress and growing our dangerously slim majority.”

Nelson was the first Republican to announce his candidacy for the 17th Congressional District in April, while Mercuri joined the race in August

Democrat Chris Deluzio was elected to the open seat in 2022 by defeating Republican Jeremy Shaffer by just under 7 points.

Nelson wrote in the op-ed that his candidacy was the “winning formula” and claimed his message was resonating with voters in the district, however, he accused the “Republican old guard” of backing Mercuri’s bid for the seat.

Nelson applauded the Pennsylvania Republican Party for rallying behind Dave McCormick’s candidacy for U.S. Senate, saying he hopes McCormick beats U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.). But Nelson questioned why he didn’t receive the same support. 

Nelson did not immediately respond to the Capital-Star’s request for comment.

In a call with the Capital-Star on Wednesday, Mercuri declined to comment on Nelson’s op-ed, instead pointing to a post he made on X, formerly Twitter, as his comment on Nelson’s exit from the race:

“Thanks to Rev Jim Nelson for his desire to step up and run for Congress and his career of service as a military veteran and police officer. I look forward to working together for this region and to represent our shared values as a congressman,” Mercuri wrote, adding “community service” hashtags to the post.

Mercuri is currently serving his third term in the state House, representing the 28th District

Deluzio’s campaign agreed with Nelson’s post. 

“Republican Jim Nelson is right about one thing: MAGA Mercuri has an extremist record that even Republicans in Western Pennsylvania want nothing to do with,” Deluzio’s campaign spokesperson said in a message to  the Capital-Star. 

Despite Mercuri’s later entrance into the race, he outraised Nelson, according to the most recent campaign finance report filing.

From the date Mercuri launched his campaign in mid-August until the end of September, Federal Election Commission (FEC) records show he raised $150,000. Nelson raised just over $15,000 from the beginning of July to the end of September. 

Mercuri, who received backing from a super PAC funded by the conservative Koch organization, entered October with a significant cash-on-hand advantage as well. Mercuri’s campaign ended September with $146,000 cash on hand, while Nelson had $3,500 cash on hand.

From the beginning of July to the end of September, Deluzio raised just under $460,000, which was his strongest quarter of 2023 so far. Entering October, Deluzio has raised $1.1 million in the 2024 election cycle to date and has just over $690,000 cash on hand

With Nelson’s withdrawal from the race, it appears Deluzio and Mercuri have a clear path to their respective parties’ nominations, since there are no other candidates that have filed with the FEC

The Cook Political Report lists the race for Pennsylvania’s 17th Congressional District as “Lean Democrat,” while Reps. Matt Cartwright (D-8th District) and Susan Wild (D-7th District), also considered vulnerable incumbents by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, both have reelection bids rated as “Toss Up.”

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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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