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Braddock Mayor John Fetterman wins Pa. Democratic primary for lieutenant governor

Stack is making history for losing the primary that would have possibly given him a second term.

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Mike Stack III (left) and Braddock Mayor John Fetterman (right).
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Mike Stack III (left) and Braddock Mayor John Fetterman (right).Read moreStaff

HARRISBURG — Philadelphia Democrat Mike Stack III became the first lieutenant governor in modern Pennsylvania history to lose reelection in a primary.

Stack was dealt a crushing defeat in Tuesday's election, falling to Braddock Mayor John Fetterman in one of the most hotly contested primaries for lieutenant governor. Four Democrats, including Nina Ahmad, a onetime deputy mayor to Mayor Kenney, had vied to knock Stack out of the job.

Unofficial vote counts showed Fetterman drawing nearly 40 percent of the vote, with Stack getting less than half as much.

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With the loss, Stack, who hails from an entrenched political family in Philadelphia, will make the history books: A sitting lieutenant governor has not lost a primary election since state law changed nearly a half-century ago to permit the holder of the office to serve two terms.

Fetterman — a 6-foot-8, goateed mayor who became a favorite of liberals when he ran two years ago for U.S. Senate — will now run alongside Gov. Wolf as a ticket in the fall election.

"Wow," Fetterman told the crowd during his election party victory speech Tuesday night, where he was greeted with thunderous applause, adding: "I want to take our message of `all places matter'" to the general election.

Fetterman bills himself as a progressive, which he has said means he will champion "evidence-based public policies that benefit the most people possible." He was endorsed by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and various progressive groups.

Among Republicans, Lower Merion real-estate executive Jeff Bartos easily edged out his three primary contenders to snag the nomination for lieutenant governor. Bartos will run on a ticket with Sen. Scott Wagner of York County, who on Tuesday won a three-way race to snag the GOP nomination for governor.

For both major parties, the primary was crowded with challengers seeking to become the state's second-in-command, which political insiders often jest is the best job in the Capitol. The position comes with a $163,672 annual salary and a 2,400-square-foot mansion funded by taxpayers,  yet it involves only a fraction of the work and stress that comes with the governor's office.

>>READ MORE: Pennsylvania voters face a governor's race with starkly different candidates | John Baer

Among Democrats, aside from Ahmad and Fetterman, Stack faced challenges from Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone and Montgomery County banker and insurance agent Ray Sosa.

On the Republican side, Bartos topped Diana Irey Vaughan, a longtime Washington County commissioner; Kathy Coder, a Republican State Committee member from Allegheny County; and Marguerite "Peg" Luksik, from Cambria County.

In running for a second term, Stack, a former state senator, had fought against the lingering stain of last year's allegations that he and his wife, Tonya, had verbally abused staffers who worked at the taxpayer-funded residence, as well as the State Police detail assigned to protect them.

In an unusual step, Wolf had ordered Inspector General Bruce Beemer's office to launch an investigation into the matter, and deliver a report on its findings. Amid the inquiry, Wolf took the unprecedented step of yanking Stack's State Police protection and sharply scaled back staff at the lieutenant governor's residence. Soon after, Tonya Stack began seeking in-patient treatment for a mental-health issue, Stack's office confirmed.

In the end, the governor decided to shield the Inspector General's report from the public.

In campaigning for reelection, Stack avoided discussing the controversy surrounding his treatment of employees. Instead, he touted his experience as an elected official, including his nearly four years as lieutenant governor and 13 more years representing Northeast Philadelphia in the Senate.

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Stack had also attempted to showcase his office's launch of the Pathway to Pardons program, which aims to help former offenders learn how to clear their criminal records and ease their path to employment, as well as his work to streamline the often long and complicated process of obtaining a pardon.

But nearly all of Stack's opponents had run on a platform of making the office relevant again. The duties of the lieutenant governor include presiding over the state Senate (and casting the tie-breaking vote, if necessary) and chairing the Board of Pardons. The lieutenant governor also would take over running the state if the governor were to die in office, or, as happened in the case of former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge, leave for another position.

Stack's opponents had said they wanted to expand on those duties, and work closely with the governor's office to champion issues important to the administration.

Stack campaign manager Marty Marks said Stack was taking the loss "completely in stride."

"His words to me tonight were, 'This is not the first time I've lost an election,'" said Marks, adding of Stack: "He is a leader and he will continue to be a leader. … Mike Stack can't help himself — this is what he does, and he will continue to do it."

Stack and Wolf's icy relationship was one of the worst-kept secrets in the Capitol. The two rarely appeared at events together and never jointly pushed policy issues. During the primary, Wolf stayed neutral.

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Despite reports of their estrangement, Stack's campaign had said the lieutenant governor supported Wolf's policies and reelection.

But a group of Republican state senators is seeking to change the way lieutenant governors run in primaries. They are pushing a measure that would allow gubernatorial candidates to choose their running mates. As it stands now, governors and lieutenant governors run separately in primary elections and become a ticket only in the general election.

The bill was spurred, in part, by the estranged relationship between Wolf and Stack.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Andrew Goldstein contributed to this article.