Tom Prigg is an unmistakable Pittsburgh native, who speaks with rounded vowel sounds and local colloquialisms to prove it. But come November 2018, the Carnegie Mellon University research associate is banking on his hometown roots to help him secure a seat in the United States House of Representatives.
Prigg is running as the Democratic opponent to Republican incumbent Keith Rothfus for Pennsylvania’s 12th district. After years of considering a congressional run, Prigg has decided to finally enter the world of politics.
“I’ve spent about three years putting all of this together,” Prigg said. “I was going to give up, but then Bernie Sanders happened.”
After last year’s presidential election, Prigg felt inspired by some of the candidates, such as Sanders, whose emphasis on the working class resonated with the values instilled in him as a youth.
“I grew up in McGuffey, in the southwestern Washington area. I was in poverty,” Prigg said. “[People there are] very result driven. What you can do [for them] is all they want to hear.”
Following his upbringing in Washington County, Prigg joined the Army and served in the 82nd Airborne as a scout sniper and machine gunner. After his tour, Prigg graduated from Pitt with a Bachelor’s of Science in Neural-Psychology and Sociology. His subsequent work in biology labs at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon has influenced his approach to politics.
“When you talk about the brain with someone that isn’t a neuroscientist, don’t talk to them like they are a neuroscientist,” Prigg said. “It’s about getting your ideas to the audience so they can absorb those ideas.”
Prigg envisions two key bills he would push if elected — a “Small Business Rescue Grant” and a bill to provide free technical training. Both bills, according to Prigg’s website, will revitalize the economy and help provide stable, living wage jobs.
“Once I establish those, then I have a base,” he said. “Now I can start working to improve other industries.”
Before this happens, Prigg will have to beat a very popular incumbent. In last year’s election, Rothfus won Pennsylvania’s 12th district comfortably by a 23.6 point margin, and in the 2014 election Rothfus won by a similar 18.6 point margin. Prigg, however, said he is confident in his ability to appeal to both parties.
“I am left but I can speak to the right, mostly because that’s how I was raised,” Prigg said. “Most people on the liberal side don’t issue enough plans. What I want to do is issue plans the right will respond to.”
Prigg cites his upbringing as a way to sell his plans to the Republicans in the area. He believes his military and working class background will help him gain favor in the 12th district.
Jeff Migliozzi, a junior marketing major and president of Pitt Progressives, said Prigg’s diverse background as a scientist and veteran will appeal to a wide section of the population — even in a Republican-controlled district.
“Being a veteran and being a scientist makes you more respectable in the eyes of a lot of people,” he said. “He’s basically casting a wider net.”
Prigg’s campaign is aided entirely by volunteers at this point — including positions that are paid in most campaigns. One of those volunteers, Carrie Solari, is Prigg’s campaign manager. She met Prigg 16 years ago and was the person who first suggested Prigg’s name to the Justice Democrats — a political organization whose goal is to “recruit and run Democrats who will represent people, not corporations,” according to the group’s Facebook page.
“I do not receive a salary. I am doing this because Tom and I both have connections to rural, poor areas and lived with poverty,” Solari said. “We just really want to help the people that we know are hurting in our state and district.”
Gerra Bosco, another volunteer, serves as his communications director. After they met in 2009, Bosco quickly realized that Prigg is a “political junkie.” She enjoyed talking politics with Prigg because his views were a result of his own observations, not “regurgitated rhetoric from the news.”
“I think that we, the citizens, have allowed the media to frame the arguments to such a degree that we have limited our ability to discuss — let alone debate — very important things,” Bosco said.
Of all of the groups that Prigg is looking to swing his way next fall, he emphasized the importance of the young voters in the 12th district.
“There is no way change can happen if the millennial generation doesn’t jump in right now,” Prigg said. “If the millennials don’t pick this up we are stuck with what we have.”