The Lead

Biden endorses Democratic nominee in DelCo special election for control of the Pa. House

By: - May 15, 2023 2:21 pm

President Joe Biden delivered a primetime speech at Independence National Historical Park September 1, 2022. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden has endorsed Heather Boyd, the Democratic nominee in a consequential special election for a suburban Philadelphia seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

The race between Democrat Heather Boyd and Republican Katie Ford in the 163rd Legislative
District in Delaware County will determine which party controls the General Assembly and holds the power to advance its legislative agenda. 

Biden’s endorsement, unusual in a state legislative race, highlights the high stakes of the election Tuesday to replace former Rep. Mike Zabel, D-Delaware, who resigned earlier this year amid multiple sexual harassment accusations.

“With control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on the line, this race will determine the future of so many fundamental freedoms that Pennsylvanians hold dear,” Biden said in the endorsement.

He called Boyd an experienced public servant who would back common sense gun laws, voting rights and protect womens’ reproductive rights. 

“Electing her could not be more important,” Biden said.

The race between Boyd, who worked as district director for U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5th District, and Ford, a mother, behavioral therapist, and Army veteran, has been heated. Boyd reported nearly $1 million in support from the House Democratic Campaign Committee on her last campaign finance report.

House Democrats emerged from the 2022 general election with 12 more seats than the caucus held in the previous session, giving it a 102-101 majority. 

Democrats cemented their majority by sweeping three special elections in Allegheny County in February four seats that opened up after a lawmaker’s death and the ascension of two others to higher offices.  

The one-vote Democratic majority survived Zabel’s resignation in March only because of the election of a Republican lawmaker to the state Senate in January. 

An election to fill Republican state Sen. Lynda Schlegel Culver’s former 108th House District seat in Montour and Northumberland counties is also being held Tuesday. The seat is not expected to flip.

Ford has criticized Boyd for failing to do more to get Zabel out of the House after one of his accusers told Boyd of Zabel’s inappropriate conduct. Boyd said lobbyist Andi Perez shared her story in confidence and expressed a desire to push for a reform of House ethics rules, which protected only employees of the House.

Ford’s campaign manager, Jamie Santora, who held the 163rd District seat from 2014 until 2018, said Biden’s endorsement shows that Democrats are worried about the outcome of the race, the Associated Press reported

In a statement, Santora called Biden’s endorsement of Boyd in light of her knowledge of Zabel’s conduct “one of the many failures of this president.”

“If we are going to be honest, the president knows little to nothing about DelCo and even less about Heather Boyd,” Santoro’s statement read.

Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro has also endorsed Boyd, warning in a campaign commercial that a Republican victory in the 163rd District would permit Republican lawmakers to advance a proposed amendment to the state constitution denying the right to abortion care.

The proposal, which passed in the General Assembly last summer, needs only a second vote in each chamber to go before voters in a referendum. Opponents of the measure say it will allow lawmakers to pass laws further restricting or outlawing abortion.

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Peter Hall
Peter Hall

Peter Hall has been a journalist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for more than 20 years, most recently covering criminal justice and legal affairs for The Morning Call in Allentown. His career at local newspapers and legal business publications has taken him from school board meetings to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and many points of interest between. He earned a degree in journalism from Susquehanna University.