Matthew Ferrence is the department chair & associate professor of English at Allegheny College. In 2019, he announced that he would be running for the 6th District Pennsylvania House of Representatives and challenge Republican incumbent Brad Roae for the 2020 general election. Despite his efforts, Ferrence ultimately lost the election to Roae, with the projected results being 65.3% for the incumbent and 34.7% for Ferrence, according to Ballotpedia.
“There’s no doubt that I’m disappointed in the outcome for the race, as the unofficial count is in,” Ferrence said. “But I knew that we weren’t going to make up the deficit that we had. But I feel really good about the campaign that we ran, and our ability to change the conversation and actually talk about the issues that are never talked about … So, I’m proud of the campaign for being able to do what we did, despite our outcome.”
Crawford County and the surrounding area has been historically red for years now with Incumbent Mike Kelly in the US House of Representatives and PA House Representative Roae holding office for quite some time. Therefore, candidates such as Ferrence that ran on progressive platforms such as “Healthcare for All” and “renewable energy,” could be challenging for voters, especially given today’s political climate.
Ferrence commented on the political climate in Crawford County.
“I bet (many) of them, if you asked what my platform is, they would have no idea,” Ferrence said. “The way this works is the fact that I ran as a Democrat meant that they would never ever vote for me. What we instead saw was a tremendous turnout for pro-Trump, far-right voters in this part of the state, and that was just smothering”
Ferrence knew since the beginning of the campaign that his candidacy was going to be an uphill battle, but he believes the idea that his campaign was super-progressive and radical is simply not true and that his ideas are just what this county needs to make real change.
“I don’t think that anything that I was actually talking about is actually all that progressive or lefty or radical because what I was running on is for fair pay, access to healthcare and to not poison the Earth,” Ferrence said. “I would rather lose, and lose badly, and continue to move the discussion towards the actual problems, then to win and pretend everything is fine.”
Ferrence is not alone with that sentiment. Many student leaders at Allegheny College feel that it is definitely possible that Crawford County would elect a progressive candidate — it is just only a matter of time and political will. Ryan Valerio, ‘22, president of the Allegheny College Democrats, explained that despite what we may believe, most of the country would agree with what Ferrence ran on.
“I think that most of America is a lot more progressive than most people think it is,” Valerio said. “Most Americans want people to have healthcare, good education and environmental protection, and that’s exactly what (Ferrence) ran on … these are issues that everybody cares about and (Ferrence) certainly cared about these issues. He would have made a big difference.”
Roae won re-election of his state district, however he was not seen on the campaign trail that much this election cycle. Though COVID-19 has made campaigning more difficult for candidates across the country however his campaign did seem to have done much to get his message across to the voters of Crawford County. It is also important to mention that Roae won with a larger margin this election than the previous. Ferrence commented on this as well.
“Hundred percent of the reason why he won is because there is a massive Republican registration advantage in this district, and that people are trained to just vote for a party,” Ferrence said. “It got even harder this year because there was a pretty strong and loud population of people who where really pro-Trump.”
Although there is such a large margin of Republicans in this county, there are still many people who do not have their voices heard.
Ferrence said he was particularly disappointed by how Roae ran his campaign as well, stating that his opponent seemed to have ran an effortless campaign, which does not sit well with the former candidate. Ferrence also mentions Roae’s tactics that were untruthful.
“Part of the campaign was about pretending that I am not from here,” Ferrence said. “I mean I grew up on a farm in Western Pennsylvania. He was saying my ideas were not compatible to Western PA, but I was raised here … there were 11,000 people who voted for me. That’s a lot of people who are saying they are disgusted with the kind of representation they have and want something else. There’s a lot of people who are not being represented.”
Ferrence’s campaign was supported by many throughout Crawford County, and though COVID-19 has made the process difficult, he partnered with student organizations such as the Allegheny College Democrats to get the word out about his candidacy.
Despite the election results, Ferrence remains hopeful that change will come to pass in the area. Valerio expects that Crawford, and the surrounding area of Northwestern Pennsylvania, will turn blue. His main reason for this is because younger voters who trend more progressive are starting to participate in the democratic process.
“One of the things you see is that young people are overwhelmingly progressive, and a lot of them are turning 18, so year after year we will be getting more of them to vote,” Valerio said. “Young people usually do not turn out, however 2020 has seen historic turnout — if we get this level turnout, we will see Crawford turn less and less red and more blue.”
As for any future political plans, Ferrence has decided he will not run for re-election again. Northwestern Pennsylvania has seen a lot of democratic loses this year, but Ferrence urges people to not give up hope,
“At the end of the day, to use a cliché, I am a writer and I am a professor, and that’s who I am, and I am happy to continue to try to change the world from that position as well … even if you’re not winning, being engaged in the process is how we fight for the world we deserve,” Ferrence stated.
When asked about advice he would give to students who are interested in getting involved, he stated
“To get involved if you are interested in getting involved, at whatever level … there’s a place for Allegheny students to become residents here to make a profound difference in the area,” Ferrence said. “More progressive values are valued in the city of Meadville, so there is a lot of space for in city politics for someone who wants to be involved as an elected official or advocacy groups, and in the long run, that is what is going to change places such as Crawford county, with more and more people standing up for what is right and just in this world.”
The Brad Roae campaign did not respond to the Campus’s request for comment