First-term U.S. Rep. Summer Lee kicked off her 2024 reelection bid Thursday night, promising to overhaul the political system — while promising to make it work for her district in the meantime.

“We are voting for the country that we are building, not the country that has existed in the past,” she told an enthusiastic crowd of supporters at the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers headquarters on the city’s South Side. “We are building a movement right here in western Pennsylvania that will change the shape of America.”

Lee’s 2018 victory in the state House helped launch a progressive remaking of local government, and last year she became the first Black woman elected to represent Pennsylvania in Congress. But her campaign to replace veteran legislator Mike Doyle in the decidedly Democratic 12th Congressional District was bitterly contested by an older generation of political leadership — and by outside pro-Israel groups concerned that she would join other progressive House members in criticizing the Middle Eastern country.

“You’ve heard them say, ‘Oh she’s too radical, she’s too extreme. She doesn’t make friends well enough. She’s too bold, she’s pushing too hard,’” Lee said, recalling criticism of her focus on economic, environmental, and racial justice. “And you know what? They weren’t all that wrong, because the reality is that this system does need radical change. … We do need people who are going to be willing to do things in ways that have never been done before.”

But Lee also pointed to more conventional political accomplishments, like bringing home federal dollars to the district. As Doyle stepped down, many local officials expressed concern that Lee’s unapologetic criticism of the political establishment, could cost her influence — and cost the region money. But Lee said $600 million in federal funds had been directed toward the district during her tenure.

Just last week, the federal government announced nearly $400 million in loan guarantees to finance expansion of a Turtle Creek facility to make batteries to store electricity from renewable energy sources. Other federal spending will help revitalize Pittsburgh’s Bedford Dwellings housing complex, and address needs like a studying on how to rejoin neighborhoods on Pittsburgh’s North Side sundered by the construction of Route 65.

“They said [I] wouldn’t bring money to the district,” Lee said Thursday night. “We brought home money for people for housing, for transportation for bridges and infrastructure. … We brought home money for people in communities that have not seen any investments for decades and decades.”

Much of that spending was made possible from federal infrastructure bills passed before Lee took office. But suspicions that Lee would be a disruptive force have given way to a string of ribbon cuttings and press conferences where she has shared the stage with Gov. Josh Shapiro and even long-time foes like Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. And the host committee for Thursday’s event included not just long-time political allies but long-established figures like U.S. Senator Bob Casey and state Rep. Dan Deasy.

Still, it seems unlikely that she will coast through her reelection without opposition in the district, which includes Pittsburgh, and a broad swath of adjoining communities in parts of Allegheny County and Westmoreland counties.

Bhavini Patel, an Edgeood borough councilwoman and Fitzgerald aide who briefly ran for the seat in 2022, is widely expected to make another bid. And AIPAC, a pro-Israel political committee that targeted Lee with millions in negative ads last year, is pledging to challenge a number of progressive Democrats it says are unfriendly to Israel, and has been quietly seeking challengers in districts that include Lee’s.

In Congress, Lee has been among a small group of legislators to oppose symbolic pro-Israel resolutions this year, and also did not attend a speech to Congress by Israeli president Isaac Herzog. She has criticized the country’s treatment of Palestinians and expressed concerns about moves by its government — issues that are hotly debated in Israel itself.

Pro-Israel groups spent more than $3 million trying to defeat Lee last year, mostly with ads and mailers that faulted her for being too radical.

“We know that the same people are going to come at her again,” Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey told the audience Thursday night. “They’re going to have organizations and businesses that can raise a whole lot of money — just like they did last time.” But “I’ve never seen money beat people.”

Still, money doesn’t hurt, as Lee made clear. Her most recent campaign-finance report shows her committee holding $104,571.81 as of mid-summer. Meanwhile, “TV costs money, and not a little bit of money,” Lee said. But “Black women nationwide are the most chronically underfunded candidates in our country [and] when you’re both progressive and black and a woman, we have even less to work with.”

And she urged Democrats to keep in mind that her reelection bid would be taking place amid a 2024 Presidential election campaign likely to feature Donald Trump, who sought to overturn the results of the 2020 race.

“We’re facing threats to our democracy, threats to our world unlike what we have seen,” she said. She said that working-class people of color were the most aware of, and at risk from, the forces that brought Trump to power — forces she likened to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan a century ago.

“This isn’t the time for people who are going to straddle fences,” she said.

Lee can expect support from the same coalition who helped her get elected: She was in fact introduced by Steve Kelley, an officer in a building workers’s local of SEIU, the union that has backed many progressive candidates. (“When she came before us for the endorsement, I remember saying, ‘yeah, that one,’” Kelly told the crowd.) And speakers cited the demographic mix of the crowd itself as a sign of her ability to build a movement.

“They want people in this room to believe that it is useless … to believe that we can have a racially just and equitable society,” Lee said. But “we have proven that we can expand the electorate and we can still serve everybody in this region.”