National News

Primary Wins by Women Buoy Democrats’ Hopes in Pennsylvania

Posted May 16, 2018 1:19 a.m. EDT
Updated May 16, 2018 1:24 a.m. EDT

A state representative, an Air Force veteran and two high-powered lawyers — all women — won Democratic House primaries Tuesday in Pennsylvania, where a record number of women ran for House seats in a year of intense political enthusiasm among female Democrats.

It was a night of victories for at least seven Democratic women running for the House in a state that has an all-male congressional delegation of 20 and a statehouse dominated by male politicians. Female candidates showed strength in nearly every region of Pennsylvania, from the Philadelphia suburbs to the conservative southwest.

Madeleine Dean, the state House member; Chrissy Houlahan, the veteran; and Mary Gay Scanlon, one of the lawyers, won in the Philadelphia suburban districts that they are now favored to carry in November, according to results from The Associated Press. Their primary victories raise the likelihood of women cracking the state’s all-male congressional delegation.

Susan Wild, the other lawyer, won a competitive primary in the Lehigh Valley but faces a tough general election race in a district with many blue-collar voters.

The women 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 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.

Most of the money will be aimed at two competitive districts north of Philadelphia that are considered tossup races this fall; both have been Republican-held, but Democrats believe they have a shot at winning them.

In one, centered on Bucks County, first-term Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a moderate Republican, will face Scott Wallace, a millionaire who outspent a rival 16-1.

Republicans are expected to attack Wallace as a carpetbagger who moved back to the district last year from Maryland and has not voted there in decades.

Although Fitzpatrick is vulnerable after just a single term, he succeeded his brother in the seat, so his name is known to voters in a district Hillary Clinton narrowly won in 2016.

The other district that will be a November battleground is Wild’s race. The first female solicitor of Allentown, Wild defeated primary rivals to her right and her left: Greg Edwards, who had been endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and John Morganelli, a district attorney who tweeted after that presidential election of 2016 that he would like a job with the Trump administration.

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 Clinton won two years ago by 9 percentage points.

And Scanlon prevailed in a Democratic primary field that included five other women — the largest number of female Democrats in any congressional primary race in the nation this year.

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 Trump critic.

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.

Wagner beat Paul Mango, a former health care consultant and West Point graduate, in one of the nastiest primaries the state has seen. Mango attacked Wagner over a protective order a daughter once obtained against him, which prompted a response ad by the daughter in which she angrily defended her father.

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.

And in the southwest corner of the state, state Sen. Guy Reschenthaler defeated state Rep. Rick Saccone, who previously lost a widely watched special congressional election to Conor Lamb, a moderate Democrat, in a region that had strongly backed Trump.

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

In Nebraska, the Democrat Jane Raybould, a city councilwoman in Lincoln, won the primary and will face Sen. Deb Fischer, a Republican seeking her second term in a comfortably red state.

Knute Buehler, a member of the Oregon House of Representatives, won the Republican nomination for governor in the state, easily prevailing over nine other candidates. He will face the incumbent Democrat, Kate Brown.