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In new Pennsylvania congressional map, some U.S. House candidates find themselves in new districts

The new congressional map unveiled Wednesday by the state Supreme Court might not have much impact on voters: Nearly 9 in 10 will find themselves in the same district as they were under the previous map. But it’s muddying things for some congressional candidates in western Pennsylvania.

Several candidates for the 12th and 17th districts find themselves living outside the district they’re running to represent. While members of Congress are only required to live in the same state as their constituents, living in a different district can leave candidates vulnerable to claims that they are carpetbaggers.

But it wasn’t the candidates who moved. The district lines did.

The new 12th District shares much of the same territory as the 18th District seat currently held by Democrat Mike Doyle, who will retire at the end of the year. The new map gives areas north and west of Pittsburgh to the new 17th district, which encompasses much of Allegheny and all of Beaver County. But the district also dips into communities east of the city — including a chunk of Swissvale that is home to state Rep. Summer Lee.

Lee has been running to replace Doyle, but she now finds herself a resident of the 17th district, not the 12th. Lee did not say Wednesday whether she’d consider moving into the new 12th district, but to do so would be only a matter of blocks.

Lee will continue to run for the seat, according to her campaign. She said in a statement that she isn’t surprised to see herself “carved into a different district,” and described the district lines as an effort by political insiders looking to derail her strongly progressive campaign.

“If there is one take away from this and every campaign I’ve been in, it is that we know there are barriers to Black women and people who build people-powered campaigns, but our movements are strong enough to win,” she said.

The map was proposed by plaintiffs represented by Democratic super-lawyer Marc Elias, and tied to an affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, chaired by former Obama Administration Attorney General Eric Holder. The map itself was drawn by Stanford University political science professor Jonathan Rodden. Rodden says he was hired to draw a “least change” map — one which made the smallest adjustments possible to the existing district boundaries.

“I did not receive any specific advice about how to achieve this,” he said, adding, “I most certainly did not access any information about the residential addresses of any potential candidates.”

In an email, Rodden described the difficulties of crafting a map that split as few communities — and as few Census tracts — as possible while keeping populations within districts precisely balanced. Swissvale was the only community split between the districts, he said because it offered a relatively high number of voting precincts that were of various sizes, which made it easier to fine-tune population shifts.

“Swissvale fit the bill,” he said, with Census tracts that “were of the right size and arrangement.”

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee referred media queries to Rodden.

University of Pittsburgh law professor Jerry Dickinson, who is also running as a Democrat in the 12th district, also lives in Swissvale — but just inside the district. In a statement Wednesday, he pointedly noted that Lee's home lay outside the district, and made the case that voters should send him to D.C. because he lives in the 12th district.

“Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District is my home—it is where my wife Emily and I live, it is where we are raising our family, and it deserves to be represented by someone who has a real stake in its future and lives in this community,” Dickinson said.

Another candidate drawn out of the 12th district and into the 17th is Bhavini Patel. Her campaign said Wednesday the map changes were always a possibility, and Patel plans to continue to seek Doyle’s seat.

“The people of the old 18th, and now the new 12th Congressional District, deserve a member of Congress who will continue to build on the legacy of Congressman Doyle and fight for the working men and women of this region every day,” Patel said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing that conversation with the voters in this region.”

The two top Democrats in the primary race for the 17th district both live in Pittsburgh, and are residents of the 12th district. Both are seeking to replace Conor Lamb.

Sean Meloy, vice president of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, is a resident of Pittsburgh’s Morningside neighborhood. He announced Wednesday his plans to run in the new 17th district.

Meloy said he was excited to see the 17th district gain Penn Hills, Wilkinsburg, Churchill and parts of Swissvale. But when asked whether or not he’ll move into the district, he didn’t answer directly.

“Obviously, I’ve got a partner [to consider], and you know, I’m not a millionaire,” he said.

But Meloy argued he has deep roots in the district despite his current address.

“I grew up in the 17th district. I’ve been organizing in the 17th district. I got elected to the state Democratic committee in the 17th district,” he said.

Also running in the 17th is Chris Deluzio. The voting rights attorney grew up in Thornburg but now lives in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood. He said now that the map has been redrawn, he plans to move his family.

“I’m not going to represent folks in Washington and not live in the district,” he said. “It’s a tough sell to say you’re not willing to move a few miles.”

The court has selected boundaries twice in the past 30 years, and its decision is likely to be the final word. A federal court challenge by Republicans is pending.

Chris Potter contributed to this report.

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Kiley Koscinski