Citing struggles with his mental health, Allegheny County Councilman Tom Duerr dropped out of the race for one of the state’s most hotly contested state Senate seats on Wednesday, sending Democrats in Pittsburgh’s suburbs on a new search for a torchbearer.

In a letter to his supporters, Duerr, who has been a staple in Democratic politics in Western Pennsylvania in recent years, said his mental health struggles “have gotten to the point where I am no longer confident I can put forward the effort required to flip this seat.”

“When I announced in early April [a run for the seat], I truly believed that this would be the campaign to flip the 37th [District], and I was prepared to give everything I had to make that goal a reality,” he wrote. “Sadly, after almost eight long years of nonstop campaigning, and four very trying years on County Council, I did not know until I began building this campaign just how little I had left to give.”

Duerr, 28, was elected to County Council in 2019, knocking off a six-year incumbent to become the youngest member of county government at the time. He’s a self-proclaimed pragmatist, and told the Union Progress in March that he intended to run as a “level-headed Democrat who will look to cut through partisanship in Harrisburg and hopefully bring results to the people of this district.”

Some Democrats believe that a more institutional party member — such as Duerr — would run better in the 37th, which is based in southern and western Allegheny County. Republican Donald Trump won the district by 1.3 points, or fewer than 2,000 votes, in 2020.

Duerr, of Bethel Park, said continuing to run for the seat would be a disservice to Democratic stakeholders and district voters, and he said to give the funds he’s raised so far to his party’s eventual nominee.

Republican Devlin Robinson currently represents the district and chairs the Senate’s Labor and Industry Committee. He beat Democratic incumbent Pam Iovino in 2020 by about 7,500 votes.

Duerr is no stranger to big races; in 2018, he worked on U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb’s special election campaign. He also helped Iovino win the Senate seat in 2019.

“To the many supporters who have already donated and offered their support to me, both in the early stages of this race as well as my race for County Council in 2019, thank you so much for believing in me and for giving me the opportunity to serve you in elected office,” Duerr wrote.

Robinson has not yet indicated if he will seek reelection next year. A number of Democrats are rumored to be considering a run for the seat, but no official announcements have been made.

Julian is the Western Pennsylvania politics and government bureau chief at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike.

Julian Routh

Julian is the Western Pennsylvania politics and government bureau chief at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike.