Pennsylvania Democrats hoping to defeat State Sen. Daylin Leach in their April primary suffered a setback Thursday night, as a key party committee was unable to reach consensus on endorsing one of the five candidates running against him.
Leach, a three-term Democrat who represents parts of Montgomery and Delaware Counties, has faced calls for his resignation for more than two years amid allegations that inappropriately touched female former staffers and made highly sexualized jokes. Those calls grew louder after a woman accused Leach of sexual assault and he responded by filing a defamation lawsuit against her.
The allegations roiled progressives who had long seen Leach as a champion for women — and gave Pennsylvania politics one of its first #MeToo moments.
Leach has vehemently denied wrongdoing and retained support from some influential donors. An investigation commissioned by Senate Democrats last year found that Leach at times engaged in humor that was sexual in nature. Investigators also said his conduct fell short of violating federal workplace discrimination law.
His challengers in the 17th Senate District primary are Amanda Cappelletti, vice chair of the East Norriton Board of Supervisors and a former Planned Parenthood official; Linda Fields, a longtime labor organizer; attorney Elvira Berry; Sara Atkins, a Lower Merion Democratic committee member; and Parthenia Izzard, a psychologist and retired educator. Two other candidates dropped out of the race prior to Thursday night’s meeting of the Montgomery County Democratic Committee.
To win the party’s endorsement, a candidate needed the support of 60% of committee members. But none was able to do so, meaning no endorsement will be made.
The top two candidates in the first round of voting were Cappelletti and Leach. They advanced to a second round, in which Cappelletti won 91 of the 160 ballots cast — just five votes short of winning the endorsement, according to the tally announced by party chairman Joe Foster.
Leach, addressing party activists before the vote, touted his progressive bona fides and asked committee members to stand with him “because it’s hard" — a reference to a speech by President John F. Kennedy. “I know some of you are worried someone will yell at you or tweet something nasty about you,” Leach said.
Cappelletti said the endorsement vote was about “standing up for progressive values.”
Anti-Leach Democrats had hoped an endorsement would encourage more candidates to drop out and boost their chances of beating a well-known incumbent. They have grown increasingly anxious that none of the challengers will be able to raise enough money to beat him, according to party officials and operatives.
“Without an endorsement, we’ll have to wait and see what those candidates are going to do,” Foster, who opposes Leach, said in an interview. “I will simply say that I would think it’s somewhat remarkable that an incumbent doesn’t get an endorsement.”
The district is considered safe territory for Democrats. The Delaware County Democratic Committee is scheduled to hold its nominating convention Sunday.
The primary is April 28.