Summer Lee has a Summer Lee problem.

The freshman congresswoman from Swissvale, Pennsylvania — a strident progressive Democrat and member of the far left Squad on Capitol Hill — also has a connectivity problem within her own district, rank and file members of her own political party and even the endorsement of the powerful 14th Ward Independent Democratic Club whose support propelled her into her first elected office six years ago.

Lee lost that club endorsement in a stunner over the weekend to her challenger Bhavini Patel in the upcoming April Democratic primary, a suburban Pittsburgh borough council member and former community outreach manager for the former Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

She currently represents the state’s 12th Congressional District, which includes nearly all of Pittsburgh, parts of suburban Westmoreland County and several working class Allegheny eastern suburbs.

Lee is one of eight members allied with the progressive “squad” who is facing a Democratic primary challenger this year; her vulnerability has attracted endorsements from Democrat House Leadership including House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Whip Katherine Clark and Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar.

The former Pennsylvania state house member who started her political journey in western Pennsylvania with the Democrat Socialist of America (DSA) chapter in Pittsburgh also has received the endorsement of the MoveOn which said in a statement to Axios that support will bring donations and volunteers to help her win her primary race.

However here at home losing this endorsement from the 14th Ward Independent Democratic Club is a significant setback for Lee. Not only is the organization one of the most powerful and influential Democratic clubs in the city and surrounding Allegheny County, it is has been the tipping point for many insurgent candidates running for office for decades.

It is important to note the club is in no way in any shape or form moderate. So it is not as though she has lost favor with the moderate wing of her party. The members of this club are the real progressive deal; proudly and unabashed supporters of social justice causes and have been a cohesive power player since the 60’s whose support is crucial to winning any primary race that falls within their ward.

For three consecutive primary races in a row, Lee earned their endorsement including for the 2022 primary for the congressional seat she currently holds and a primary race she went on to narrowly win over former banking and securities commissioner of Pennsylvania, Steve Irwin.

Her most significant endorsement from them though was the one she received in 2018 over then-popular incumbent state representative Paul Costa. That support lifted her candidacy up over the decades long lawmaker in a low turnout primary race and propelled her to the national stage. 

At the time her win marked a big power move for the local DSA that she was aligned with as well as for far left progressives who had for years set their sights on unseating liberal Democrats who they felt were too moderate to fight for their social justice causes.

That year marked the beginning of a four year surge of far left progressive candidates — nearly all supported by the DSA, who competed in low turnout primaries and won, often upending incumbent Democrats along the way.

Recently that insurgency has hit a speed bump; DSA progressive candidates lost two Allegheny county council races this past fall as well as the district attorney’s race — marking the first time that a well-funded George Soros backed candidate lost a Democratic primary.  

And while progressive Sara Innamorato, who was ushered in with Lee in the 2018 progressive primary year for a neighboring state house seat, won the Allegheny county executive race this past November; her victory was razor thin in a county where the Democratic Party registration dominates.

Lee has struggled from the very beginning to connect with her district. Local officials, community organizers and faith leadership have complained privately about by her absence at meaningful community events such as the annual Martin Luther King breakfast at the Bethel AME Church in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.

Since the October 7th Hamas attack on Israel, she has been at odds with her constituents for opposing resolutions opposing antisemitism and condemning Hamas for the attack against Israel as well as for her support for a ceasefire.

Last month she was hit with a wave of backlash for agreeing to speak at an event sponsored by he Council on American Islamic Relations; an event she ultimately cancelled after local elected officials all the way up to popular Gov. Josh Shapiro condemned the event.

Lee first came on the political scene in Pittsburgh when she ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign for a local school board — it was a race that began her relationship with the DSA when her efforts caught their attention, according to the New Yorker.

For the past few months a series of decisions made by her have been a death by a thousand cuts of her political fortunes. When she spoke at the 14th Ward Independent Democratic Club over the weekend she was rigid in her criticisms of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a club that has many members from the city neighborhood of Squirrel Hill; one of the country’s most storied Jewish enclaves where the worst massacre of Jews in our country happened at the Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018.

Chris Potter of WESA reported the most heated exchange at the forum concerned the discussion Israel when an audience member asked Lee if she believed Israel is genocide in Gaza.

Potter reported Lee said, “I think that words are often only important when we all have the same understanding of them.”

Pressed for a yes or no answer, Lee circled back to her criticism of the war on Netanyahu, saying his politics were unconscionable.

Muhlenberg College political science professor Chris Borick said this primary is the one to watch in Pennsylvania this April not just because of Lee, but also because gauging where the far left movement is going in Pittsburgh.

What is in Lee’s favor is a low turnout primary, with no real presidential primary contest going on for the Democrats, Biden clinched the nomination last week, turnout is going to be weak.

What isn’t in her favor is her own actions and often inactions — in short, Summer Lee truly does have a Summer Lee problem. 

Salena Zito is a national political reporter at the Washington Examiner who lives in western Pennsylvania.

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