The Pennsylvania primary election Tuesday marks the first time the very act of casting a ballot has completely overshadowed the candidates on it.
First the primary was shifted five weeks forward from April 28 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Then the Democratic contest for president effectively ended, with Joe Biden’s victory all but assured. Almost two million Pennsylvanians have requested mail-in ballots. And 77% of Philadelphia’s polling places won’t be open on primary day. It all means it could be days before we have actual results.
But the election marches on, even if there are few competitive races.
Here are some worth watching:
Pennsylvania Auditor General
The most competitive race Tuesday is the six-candidate Democratic primary for auditor general, an office described as the state’s “chief financial watchdog.”
But her former boss, Mayor Jim Kenney, has endorsed Michael Lamb, the four-term Pittsburgh city controller, as has Philadelphia’s Democratic City Committee. A spokesperson for Kenney said Lamb has the experience “to root out waste, fraud, and corruption in government.” Bob Brady, chair of the city’s Democratic Party, had a practical explanation for backing Lamb. Two other candidates seeking reelection to “row offices,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Treasurer Joe Torsella, are Montgomery County Democrats. Having a Democrat from Western Pennsylvania like Lamb on the November general election ballot will help drive turnout in that part of the state, which would benefit Biden’s campaign against President Donald Trump.
The other candidates are seven-term State Rep. Scott Conklin of Centre County, who lost a statewide race for lieutenant governor in 2010; Tracie Fountain, a certified public accountant who has served in the Auditor General’s Office for three decades; Rose Marie Davis, a certified public accountant from Monroe County; and Christina Hartman, a nonprofit executive from Lancaster County who ran for the U.S. House in 2016.
Republicans are playing defense in congressional races outside Philadelphia and hoping to pick up seats in Northeast Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley.
In the Bucks County-based 1st Congressional District, Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is facing a primary challenge from businessman Andy Meehan, who accuses the incumbent of failing to support Trump.
Fitzpatrick, seeking a third term, has raised almost $2.4 million, dwarfing Meehan’s $53,000. The congressman said he hadn’t decided whether he’d vote for Trump in November — but he has deployed the president’s rhetoric calling for China to be held accountable for the spread of the coronavirus.
Fitzpatrick couldn’t have scripted a more advantageous Democratic primary. The top fund-raiser dropped out earlier this year amid a scandal on her school board, and the candidate backed by the Bucks County Democratic Committee, Christina Finello, had about $82,500 in her campaign account as of May 13.
That represents just 5% of Fitzpatrick’s $1.7 million in the bank.
Finello, an Ivyland Borough Council member, is running against Skylar Hurwitz, founder of a tech consulting firm in New Hope. Despite Fitzpatrick’s cash advantage, the general election may still be competitive, as he’s one of just two Republicans in the country running for reelection in a district Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.
Republicans are hoping to flip seats in other parts of the state. Six candidates are running in the GOP primary in Northeast Pennsylvania’s 8th District, which Trump carried by 10 points. The winner faces Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright.
That campaign has largely revolved around which candidate is most aligned with Trump. One of the top fund-raisers, Jim Bognet, a former Trump administration official, is airing a commercial highlighting one rival’s past anti-Trump social media posts and another candidate’s history as a former Democrat. Former Hazleton Mayor Mike Marsicano, the ex-Democrat, is running an ad attacking Bognet over his past work for Mitt Romney, the only Republican who voted to convict Trump in his impeachment trial.
In the Lehigh Valley-based 7th District, two Republicans are running for a chance to challenge Democratic Rep. Susan Wild.
Lisa Scheller, CEO of a manufacturing company, is campaigning as a “conservative business owner” endorsed by Trump. Dean Browning, a former Lehigh County commissioner, calls Scheller a “pro-China, anti-Trump, fake conservative.” Scheller has accused Browning of siding with “liberal Democrats” on the Lehigh County board.
Clinton narrowly carried the district in 2016.
And Democrats, after flipping three seats in 2018, are now targeting the 10th District in south-central Pennsylvania. House Democrats see Auditor General Eugene DePasquale as a prized recruit in the district, currently represented by Republican Rep. Scott Perry. DePasquale is running in the Democratic primary against attorney Tom Brier.
Pennsylvania General Assembly
Further down the ballot, a number of Democratic incumbents in the state General Assembly face challenges for reelection — in some cases by liberal upstarts aiming to continue that wing of the party’s winning streak in Philadelphia.
Sen. Larry Farnese, whose 1st District includes parts of South Philly, Center City, and the River Wards, is up against Nikil Saval, a writer and cofounder of the progressive group Reclaim Philadelphia.
In some ways, the closely watched race is just the latest proxy war between old-school Democratic Party operators, with electricians union boss John J. Dougherty backing Saval, and former State Sen. Vince Fumo in Farnese’s corner.
But it has also become a venue for the party to thrash out its ideological differences. Bernie Sanders has endorsed Saval, a democratic socialist, while more moderate Democratic leaders like Gov. Tom Wolf and City Council President Darrell L. Clarke are for Farnese.
Similar old-vs.-new battles are playing out in Democratic primaries for state House seats across the city. While Democrats are hoping to retake the state House in November, these primaries will have little bearing on the outcome, as Democrats are all but guaranteed to win the city’s deep-blue legislative districts.
Rep. James Roebuck Jr., who has represented West Philly’s 188th District since 1985, has three primary challengers: Greg Benjamin, a ward leader; Karen Dunn, a former Roebuck staffer; and Rick Krajewski, the favorite of the progressive wing.
In the 175th District, which stretches from Queen Village to Kensington, Rep. Mary Isaacson is fending off Democratic primary challengers in her first competitive election after she was handpicked by ward leaders to replace former Rep. Mike O’Brien on the ballot in 2018 when he stepped down because of health issues. Isaacson, O’Brien’s former chief of staff, faces Andre Del Valle, a former staffer to Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez; attorney Vanessa McGrath; and Jeff Dempsey, a former staffer to U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle.
Rep. Brian Sims, who in 2013 became the legislature’s first openly gay member, is being challenged by Marisa Shaaban, secretary of the 5th Ward, in the Center City-based 182nd District.
Like Isaacson, Rep. G. Roni Green was chosen by ward leaders to fill a vacancy — resulting from former Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell’s conviction on corruption charges — and is facing Democratic opponents for the first time in West Philadelphia’s 190th District. She faces attorney Danyl Patterson, freelance journalist Van Stone, and Amen Brown, CEO of the Overbrook Beacon Community Empowerment Center.
In a competitive state Senate race in parts of Delaware and Chester Counties, Plumbers union leader John Kane and health-care consultant Brett Burman are seeking the Democratic nomination. The winner will face Republican Sen. Tom Killion. The 9th District general election will be crucial to Democrats’ hopes of taking control of the Senate, where they need a net gain of four seats.
And in one of the more unusual primaries in the Philadelphia area, some party leaders have lined up behind Amanda Cappelletti, who is challenging embattled State Sen. Daylin Leach, a Democrat who represents the 17th District in Montgomery and Delaware Counties. Leach was accused in 2017 of inappropriately touching female former staffers and making highly sexualized jokes, in one of Pennsylvania’s most high-profile #MeToo scandals. He has denied wrongdoing and defied calls for his resignation. Tuesday will be his first time facing voters since the allegations against him.
Cappelletti, a lawyer and the vice chair of the East Norriton Township Board of Supervisors, has been endorsed by Democratic U.S. Reps. Mary Gay Scanlon of Delaware County and Madeleine Dean of Montgomery County.
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Marisa Shaaban’s first name.