Pennsylvania’s primary results Tuesday night reflected both sides of the energy stirred by President Trump.
Democrats rallied behind suburban women in several high-profile races critical to their hopes of taking control of the U.S. House this fall — nominating exactly the kind of candidates that Democrats are relying on nationally to help them win a foothold on power in Congress.
Pennsylvania Republicans, meanwhile, doubled down on Trump’s 2016 success in the Keystone State — tapping statewide nominees who in style, tone, and priorities show the party has wrapped its arms around Trump.
Delaware County’s Mary Gay Scanlon, Montgomery County’s Madeleine Dean and the Lehigh Valley’s Susan Wild all won Democratic primaries in key House races, and Chester County’s Chrissy Houlahan walked to her nomination unopposed. With Scanlon and Dean running in deep blue districts, and Houlahan also favored in a more competitive race, Pennsylvania is poised to send at least one woman, and maybe more, to Congress for the first time in four years. (Republicans also nominated a woman, Pearl Kim, to run against Scanlon in the Fifth District, all-but assuring a woman will win that race in a strongly Democratic district.)
>> READ MORE: Primary election winners and losers
They all represent the types of candidates that Democrats hope can swing the House their way: women from affluent, educated suburbs where the president has polled poorly, and fared badly even while running up big margins in other parts of Pennsylvania in 2016.
EMILY’s List, the progressive political group that supports Democratic women, hailed the victories. Of Dean, the group said: “The women and working families of this district will be well-served by a champion like Madeleine, which is why we are so proud to stand with her and congratulate her tonight.”
Several such districts in the Philadelphia region — from Delaware County to the Lehigh Valley — are central to Democrats’ hopes to gaining the 23 seats they need to build a House majority, thanks to a wide-open congressional map and wave of Republican retirements.
But Republicans sent their own messages: In their U.S. Senate primary, the GOP nominated U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, a hard-liner on illegal immigration who boasts of his close ties to the president. And for governor, the party chose a brash and confrontational businessman, State Sen. Scott Wagner, reflecting how deeply Trump has left his imprint on the party.
Their victories signaled a stark shift away from old Republican methods in Pennsylvania, which typically focused on trying to appeal to moderate swing voters.
Consider that in November 2016, Sen. Pat Toomey refused to endorse Trump until hours before the polls closed after spending millions depicting himself as an independent champion of compromise.
At the time, many Republican insiders thought their best Senate nominee for 2018 might have been U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, who had a moderate profile that served him well in Delaware County. But Meehan became a casualty of another unexpected wave: He was essentially pushed from office after revelations of a sexual-harassment settlement.
The primary results only amplify the extent to which this fall’s elections will be a referendum on the president as voters weigh in on his first two years in office and respond to a 2016 upset that left many stunned — and spurred several candidates to enter politics.
The nominations for Dean, Scanlon, and Wild were no sure things — all prevailed in tough primary races.
At least one suburban woman, however, fell short. Bucks County’s Rachel Reddick lost to Scott Wallace in the First District, another one where Democrats hope to flip a GOP-held seat, this one held by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick.
The voting came in a year of political upheaval, driven by a suburban backlash against Trump, a wave of retirements (mostly by Republicans), and new congressional districts that drastically altered the political terrain. In all, seven of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts will have new representatives next year.
For most of the state, Tuesday was their first chance to participate in a federal election since Trump’s 2016 victory, and across Pennsylvania it was the first test of the state’s new congressional lines, drawn by the state Supreme Court to overturn what it ruled was an unconstitutional imbalance favoring Republicans.
The results: competitive Democratic battles for several seats that now heavily favor their party, and crowded Republican races to replace the likes of Barletta and Bill Shuster in deep red territory.
Democrats, meanwhile, had a wider ideological split in some races, most notably in the Lehigh Valley’s Seventh District, which had something for nearly every slice of the party. Northampton District Attorney John Morganelli hoped his more moderate stances could appeal to voters in the closely divided swing district, home to the recently resigned centrist Republican Charlie Dent. But his conservative stances on immigration and abortion worried much of the Democratic base. Liberal champion Bernie Sanders and the Congressional Black Caucus endorsed Greg Edwards, while the Democratic women’s group EMILY’s List was behind the eventual winner, Wild.
On the Republican side, Olympic gold medalist Marty Northstein and former Lehigh County Commissioner Dean Browning were also locked in a tight contest. On paper, the district looks like a competitive one in November, so the right nominee for either party could make the difference.
While Trump acolytes fared well, Democratic candidates backed by Sanders had mixed showings. John Fetterman, the liberal Braddock mayor running for lieutenant governor, won his party’s nomination.
But the Sanders-backed Philadelphian Rich Lazer finished third, in a district based mostly in Delaware County, and Edwards, in the Lehigh Valley, also fell short.
The outcomes are likely to resonate well beyond Pennsylvania when voters decide whom to support for the House — and which party to empower — this November.