National News

Primary Wins by Women Buoy Democrats’ Hopes in Pennsylvania

Posted May 15, 2018 10:53 p.m. EDT
Updated May 15, 2018 10:58 p.m. EDT

A state representative, an Air Force veteran and a college professor — all women — won Democratic congressional primaries on Tuesday in Pennsylvania, where a record number of women ran for House seats in a year of intense political enthusiasm among female Democrats.

Madeleine Dean, the state House member, and Chrissy Houlahan, an Air Force veteran, each won in the Philadelphia suburban districts that they are now favored to carry in November. Their primary victories raise the prospect of women cracking the state’s all-male congressional delegation of 20 after midterm elections.

They won in districts that were redrawn to replace a gerrymandered Republican map that the state Supreme Court ruled illegal in January. The new map of the state’s 18 House districts — and the ebullience it set off among Democrats hoping to capture the House of Representatives in the midterms — put Pennsylvania front and center among four states that held primaries on Tuesday.

President Donald Trump narrowly won Pennsylvania in 2016 and Democrats, seeking to tap into grass-roots rejection of the president, badly want a version of a do-over in the midterm elections. And the state will be critical to determining whether Republicans or Democrats win control of the House in November.

Nationwide, Democrats need to flip two dozen Republican-held seats to gain a majority in the House. Under the new congressional map, Democrats have a shot at flipping at least three and possibly as many as six seats this fall in the Keystone State, most in a collar of counties around Philadelphia.

Redistricting recognized the shifting demographics that have remade the region from a once-solid Republican enclave.

But the National Republican Congressional Committee, the party’s chief spending arm, is not easily ceding races in the suburbs. The committee has reserved $7.8 million in television advertising for the fall in the Philadelphia market, a spokesman confirmed Tuesday, its largest early spending commitment of any region nationally.

Dean was the winner in a suburban district in Montgomery County considered a safe Democratic seat after redistricting. Houlahan had the good fortune of being the only Democrat running in a district almost as safe, centered in Chester County, which Hillary Clinton won two years ago by 9 percentage points.

The House races were the centerpiece, but not the only show in Pennsylvania. In two important statewide primaries for the right to challenge Democratic incumbents — for governor and the U.S. Senate — the favorites carried the day.

Lou Barletta, a congressman from Luzerne County, who made a reputation on unflinching opposition to unauthorized immigrants and became an early supporter of Trump, won the Republican nomination to challenge Sen. Bob Casey Jr., a mild-mannered politician who has become a relentless critic of Trump.

And Scott Wagner, a state senator whose fortune from waste hauling led to an inevitable campaign slogan that he would be Pennsylvania’s “cleanup guy,” won the nomination to challenge Gov. Tom Wolf.

Wagner and Wolf are ideological opposites. Their fall race is expected to include fierce disagreement over Wagner’s support of anti-union “right to work” legislation, in a state where organized labor remains strong. Wolf opposes the legislation.

In an unusual down-ballot race, Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, a Democrat who had a falling out with Wolf, lost to a primary challenger, John Fetterman, the mayor of Braddock. Stack was in the news last year after accusations he mistreated State Police in his protective detail.

Idaho, Oregon and Nebraska also went to the polls on Tuesday.