Republican county executive candidate Joe Rockey pitches a ‘middle ground’ platform | Ryan Deto

Allegheny County Republicans have struggled in elections as of late, and one county executive candidate is hoping to turn the tide with a pitch that is inclusive to a broad swath of voters.

Retired PNC chief risk officer Joe Rockey announced his campaign for Allegheny County executive at the Wyndham Hotel in Downtown Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

He is the first Republican to throw his hat into the race in a historically Democrat-leaning county.

“I still believe I have something left to give in the place that raised me,” said Rockey, of Ohio Township. “We need a new kind of renaissance. It’s not enough to put up new buildings and arenas without the people to fill them.”

Rockey, 58, grew up on Pittsburgh’s North Side. He attended North Catholic High School and later Duquesne University, earning an accounting degree. He said his father was a union Democrat.

Eventually he became a certified public accountant and worked as PNC’s chief risk officer.

Rockey said the local economy is his “Number 1 priority.” He said he would work with organized labor, businesses, and nonprofits to improve economic conditions in Allegheny County.

Rockey lamented the region’s struggles with population loss and said the county should be doing a better job at attracting the family-sustaining careers that will attract and keep people in the area.

“Tampa should be a place we go on vacations — not a place we visit our grandchildren,” he said.

He believes he can appeal to Democrats and independents in a county where Republicans are severely outnumbered. He said he would stand “right in the middle,” and that voters who believe in the kind of “common sense solutions” he is promoting make up the majority of Allegheny County voters, regardless of their party affiliation.

The last two general elections have shown Democrats strengthen their numbers in Allegheny County.

President Joe Biden won in 2020 by a margin only eclipsed by Lyndon Johnson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Both Gov. Josh Shapiro and Sen. John Fetterman improved upon Biden’s Allegheny County margin in 2022.

On Tuesday, all three Democrats won their special elections in Allegheny County by at least a 3-1 margin over Republican opponents. A Republican candidate hasn’t carried the whole of Allegheny County since 2010, when Republican Tom Corbett won the county by less than a percentage point.

Despite these odds, Republicans are buoyed by Rockey’s chances.

Sam DeMarco, an Allegheny County Councilman and chair of the county Republican Committee, said Republicans believe they have a “very real chance” at retaking the county executive office for the first time since 1999. He said that Democrats have elicited a field of “career politicians who are out of step” with county residents.

Republican Jim Roddey was elected Allegheny County’s first county executive in 1999 and served one term. Roddey is chairing Rockey’s campaign.

“This region needs a problem solver,” Roddey said. “Someone that understands business, not someone pushing extreme political theories.”

Republicans appear to be united behind Rockey’s campaign, which could provide them a needed boost compared to Democrats who have already amassed a large primary field.

Several Allegheny County Republicans were in attendance at Rockey’s launch, including former U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, North Hills state Rep. Rob Mercuri, and former state Rep. Carrie DelRosso of Oakmont.

Rockey attempted to strike a chord appealing to conservatives and possible liberals. He spoke about tackling homelessness and crime in Downtown Pittsburgh, and also spoke about including everyone in the county’s growth.

“A vibrant economy is the surest way to eradicate poverty,” he said.

Conspiracy theories about rigged elections have become a growing issue of concern among some Republicans, particularly the 2020 election. Rockey said he wants to ensure that elections are held fairly, but said he has confidence that this has been done in the past in Allegheny County.

He also criticized some Democrats as proposing “radical policies.” When asked what those proposals were, he didn’t specify and said some progressives were proposing ideas that “might work in California, but not Western Pennsylvania.“

He said there would be some differences between him and incumbent County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who is term limited.

Rockey lauded Fitzgerald for his economic growth strategy surrounding Pittsburgh International Airport, but said he wanted to accelerate efforts like that.

When asked about the Allegheny County Jail, which has become a hot button issue, Rockey said he wants to understand all the issues there and meet with stakeholders before offering potential fixes.

He rejected any notion about privatizing the facility and said local government should run the jail.