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Pa. primary election 2018: Voters guide

May 15 is primary day in Pennsylvania. Voters registered with Republicans or Democrats will chose their party's nominees for governor, lieutenant governor, U.S. Senate, U.S. House, state House and some state Senate districts.

A polling place at the bocci court at Marconi Plaza in Philadelphia during the 2017 primary elections.
A polling place at the bocci court at Marconi Plaza in Philadelphia during the 2017 primary elections.Read moreMichael Bryant / Staff photographer

It’s Always Election Day in Philadelphia

Or so it seems. If you're going to the polls in Pennsylvania Tuesday, and you know you should, our politics team has what you need to know.

In Democratic and Republican primaries, voters will be selecting the two major parties' nominees for U.S. House (under a new congressional map), U.S. Senate, governor, lieutenant governor and state legislative seats. Pennsylvania has a closed primary system, meaning that you must be  a registered Republican to vote in that party's election Tuesday; the same applies on the Democratic side. Voters with no partisan affiliation are shut out of the nominating contests, though there are three public ballot questions in Philadelphia open to all voters. And all voters in the 178th Pennyslvania House District can participate in the special election to fill the remainder of the term of Rep. Scott Petri (R., Bucks).

Start with finding your polling place if you are unsure where to go. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Navigate to a section: U.S. House of Representatives (new map, competitive Philly-area races) | Governor | Lieutenant governor | U.S. Senate | Pennsylvania State House and Senate | Philly ballot questions | Endorsements | Voter resources

The hottest action may be in primaries for seats in the U.S. House, particularly on the Democratic side in the Philadelphia area. A record number of candidates filed to run in Pennsylvania, many fueled by a suburban backlash against President Trump, particularly among women, a surge of activism on the political left and key Republican retirements. All of these volatile elements in the political atmosphere have been ionized by a new state map of congressional districts that reversed long-held GOP advantages.

Sometimes big elections turn on unforseen twists. The decisive moment here could have happened on the day the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned the congressional district map in January, and later imposed new lines.

The original map had been drawn in 2011 as a partisan gerrymander, the court said — intentionally designed to benefit Republicans and discriminate against Democrats. It's one reason, Democrats said in their legal challenge, they had only won the same five of Pennsylvania's 18 congressional seats in three consecutive elections.

Suddenly, candidates found themselves in entirely different districts. Some faced new competition; others calculated the demographics of their new territories and dropped out or pursued other offices.

Democrats hope the new map, drawn by the justices and meant to provide an even playing field, will allow them to pick up several seats in the U.S. House. Pair that with the long predicted  Democratic "wave election" they hope for in November, and Pennsylvania becomes the keystone in their attempt to win back control.

First District (Bucks County)

In the First District, three Democrats are vying for the nomination to take on incumbent Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican who is a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers caucus and is running for a second term. Democrats in the race are Scott Wallace, the multimillionaire  grandson of FDR Vice President Henry A. Wallace; Rachel Reddick, a U.S. Navy lawyer, first on active duty, now in the reserves; and Steve Bacher, an environmental activist who positions himself as the true progressive in the race.

Fitzpatrick faces a primary challenge on the Republican side from Dean Malik, a former county prosecutor and a major in the Marine Corps Reserve. He argues the incumbent is not supportive enough of President Trump.

Fourth District (Montgomery County)

Montgomery County has been split among several congressional districts for years, but under the new map, it gets the Fourth District all to itselfState Rep. Madeleine Dean, gun control advocate Shira Goodman, and former Rep. Joe Hoeffel are battling for the Democratic nomination; the newly drawn district leans Democratic. It also has been a target for advocates seeking to elect a woman to the all-male Pennsylvania congressional delegation.

Fifth District (Delaware County, South Philadelphia)

Stampede, open audition, traffic jam — pick the metaphor you prefer, or dream up a better one, but the Democratic primary for the Fifth District, weighted toward Delaware County but with a foothold in Philadelphia, is crowded, with 10 candidates vying for the seat, created mostly from a mashup of parts of the former districts of Reps. Bob Brady (D) and Patrick Meehan (R). With the Philly piece added in, most analysts say it leans Democratic.

Former Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Rich Lazer, who is backed by the powerful electricians union and a super PAC hopes to consolidate city support against nine Delco residents. Other top candidates include Mary Gay Scanlon, a Ballard Spahr lawyer and school board member who is a favorite of the Ed Rendell crowd, and State Rep. Greg Vitali of Delaware County, an underfunded environmental-minded legislator who is among the top three in private polls of the primary.

Other candidates in the robust Democratic field: Larry Arata, a Philadelphia teacher and community activist who lives in Delaware County; State Rep. Margo Davidson, who holds the 164th district seat; Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland; Lindy Li, a financial adviser; Ashley Lunkenheimer, a former assistant federal prosecutor who lives in Media; Molly Sheehan, a bio-engineer who got her doctorate at Penn; Theresa Wright, a Norristown businesswoman.


Incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf is unopposed in his party's primary. Given the way the GOP candidates are going at each other, and what is believed to be the general diminishment of the Republican brand, Democrats are feeling pretty bullish about his chances of reelection right now. November is a long way away, though.


With all the subtlety of a hockey fight, GOP gubernatorial candidates Paul Mango and state Sen. Scott Wagner have engaged in a relentlessly acrimonious contest. And when that match finally ends Tuesday, Laura Ellsworth hopes she is declared the winner.

While Mango has called the party-endorsed Wagner a "slumlord" and "deadbeat dad," and Wagner has labeled his opponent a "phony," they have all but ignored the lesser-funded Ellsworth. For her part, Ellsworth has eschewed the insult derby and chided her rivals for providing Democrat Gov. Wolf ammunition for his re-election campaign.

The three do share some common ground. They all are wealthy.

Wagner operates a waste-hauling firm based in York County. Mango spent more than 20 years as health-care honcho in Allegheny County. And Ellsworth heads up the Pittsburgh office of an international law firm. In public appearances and in website images, they appear to be well-heeled, even in play clothes. (Wagner, who promises to clean up Harrisburg "garbage" is shown depositing trash bags into one his trucks while wearing possibly the cleanest yellow t-shirt and reflective vest in the history of sanitation.)

They do agree on some issues. They are bullish on cost-cutting and the death penalty, and against abortion, further gun-background checks and releasing their tax returns.

And all three badly trail Wolf, according to a Franklin & Marshall College poll.

In their sometimes-snarly debate exchanges, Mango and Wagner have tried to out-right each other; Ellsworth has cast herself as the more-moderate option.

Here is a summary of positions they have taken on some key issues, a Cliffs Notes version of an explication by the Associated Press:


Mango and Wagner want to eliminate school property taxes, which constitute the majority of real estate tax bills. They would replace the revenue with higher income and sales taxes. Ellsworth opposes elimination, saying it would undermine local control and endanger school finances.

Ellsworth wants to give towns more alternatives to property levies.

Without making guarantees, all say they would try to avoid raising taxes or fees. All three say they want to cut Pennsylvania's 9.99 percent corporate net income tax rate.

School funding

All favor taxpayer-funded options for public school alternatives and "education savings accounts" that parents can use for non-public schools. Mango and Wagner oppose more funding; Ellsworth says the system is unfair and inadequate.


None of the three supports more restrictions on gun ownership or gun sales or an expansion of background checks.


Wagner and Mango favor mandatory minimum sentences for drug dealers. Wagner would increase state funding to lengthen in-patient addiction treatment periods. Mango says the state should concentrate more on prevention than treatment. Ellsworth wants a "two-strikes"approach: Anyone revived with naloxone a second time would have to enter a treatment program.

See Laura Ellsworth's campaign website here. Paul Mango's website is here. Scott Wagner's campaign site is here.


This primary features the unusual spectacle of incumbent Lt. Gov. Mike Stack trying to fend off four fellow Democrats who want to take his job. Wolf and his understudy are not pals, rarely speaking to each other, but the governor has not publicly bashed Stack, either – or endorsed one of the challengers. Due to a quirk in state law, the governor and lieutenant governor run separately in party primaries and then as a team in the general election. Stack, of Philadelphia, was a prominent state senator from the Northeast and part of a political dynasty and blew away his rivals in 2014. Stack and his wife, Tonya, were accused last year of berating and mistreating their State Police protective detail and state workers at the LG's mansion.

The lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate, with the ability to cast a tie-breaking vote if needed, and chairs the Board of Pardons and state emergency-management agency. Stack also has pushed reforms to ease the transition to outside life of formerly incarcerated people.

He is opposed by Nina Ahmad, a former deputy mayor for public engagement in the administration of Mayor Kenney; Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, a gruff-talking populist with a master's from Harvard; Kathi Cozzone, a Chester County commissioner; and Ray Sosa, a career banking and insurance executive from Montgomery County.


Republicans also have a competitive primary for lieutenant governor. Jeff Bartos, a Lower Merion real-estate executive, is campaigning in tandem with Wagner, the party-endorsed candidate for governor. Kathleen Coder, an Allegheny County business consultant, is also seeking the nomination, as is Peg Luksik, a veteran opponent of abortion rights who has also run for governor and U.S. Senate. Diana Irey Vaughn, a Washington County commissioner for 23 years, has aligned her candidacy with gubernatorial hopeful Mango.

U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, of Luzerne County, has the state GOP's endorsement in the primary to decide who will challenge incumbent Sen. Bob Casey, a two-term Democrat who is unopposed in his party's primary. Before winning election to Congress in 2010, Barletta was mayor of Hazelton, Pa., where he was nationally renowned for fighting what he considered an invasion of undocumented Latino immigrants. The ordinance Barletta enacted, fining those who rented to illegals and yanking business licenses from companies who employed undocumented workers, was declared unconstitutional, but he became what many consider the godfather to President Trump's anti-immigrant politics — the congressman was an early Trump backer in 2016 and was considered for a position in the cabinet.

He is opposed by State Rep. Jim Christiana of Beaver County, who has been endorsed by many fellow GOP state legislators. Christiana stresses his record of working and compromising with colleagues on the Democrat side to get things done in Harrisburg, and blasts congressional inaction on important issues.

You might be new to the area or have forgotten what state House or Senate district you live in. Look it up online by entering your address.

The Committee of Seventy has a guide that lists legislative candidates by district in both Democratic and Republican primaries in Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties.

  1. Adding $500,000 to the Police Advisory Commission's annual budget

  2. Granting City Council the power to approve new members of the Philadelphia Board of Education, who are appointed by the mayor

  3. Provide mandatory training to all city employees about sexual harassment in the workplace

All Philadelphia voters, regardless of political party, will be able to vote on the ballot questions, which would amend the city charter.

Look, it's your choice alone when you are behind that curtain. But the smart folks on the Inquirer and Daily News editorial board have studied up and  interviewed the candidates in the major races and picked those they think would be best. Agree, or disagree, their opinions could stimulate your cogitation. Plus, as a  treat, there are cool candidate caricatures drawn by the incomparable Signe Wilkinson.

  1. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Any voter in line by 8 p.m. is allowed to vote.

  2. Find your polling place: From the Pennsylvania Department of State

  3. Pennsylvania Voter Services: State website with information for voters

  4. County elections offices: Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery

  5. The government watchdog org Committee of 70 has a nifty voters guide that is easy to navigate.

  6. Here is the Pennsylvania home page of Ballotpedia, an online encyclopedia of American politics and elections sponsored by the nonpartisan Lucy Burns Institute.

Staff writers Jonathan Lai and Anthony R. Wood contributed to this article.