Candidates are lining up for a potentially competitive state legislative race in President Joe Biden’s birthplace.
The seat representing 22nd Senate District in northeastern Pennsylvania is open after former Democratic Sen. John Blake resigned earlier this month to take an economic development job with U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-8th District.
The district includes all of Lackawanna County, home to Scranton, as well as parts of neighboring Monroe and Luzerne counties in northeastern Pennsylvania.
It is, historically, a Democratic area. A Republican hasn’t represented the district since 1970. And Blake won reelection in 2018 by 23 percentage points.
But the region’s working class residents also swung to former President Donald Trump in the 2016 election. With Biden’s 2020 narrow statewide win — about 2 percent of the vote — those competing to be Blake’s successor do not want to leave anything to chance.
“While choosing a candidate with the resources to win is essential, it is also our duty to nominate a candidate of conviction who will inspire our base to turn out and quickly shatter any Republican hope for victory,” said state Rep. Kyle Mullins, D-Lackawanna, in a letter sent to the district’s 330 Democratic committee people Wednesday.
Mullins, 36, was an aide to Blake before he won a state House seat in 2018.
Under state law, when a state lawmaker resigns, local party officials choose who will stand on the ballot as their replacement in a special election.
The process differs from county to county, and by party, but it is usually more secretive than a primary election. Local Democrats will tap their candidate Saturday.
Also seeking the Democratic nod in the 22nd District is Mullin’s Lackawanna Democratic colleague, Rep. Marty Flynn. First elected in 2012, Flynn, 45, is a former prison guard and MMA fighter.
“I have learned through my time in Harrisburg, that our community needs a loud voice. A voice that will never back down” Flynn said in a statement last month after Blake announced his resignation.
Despite the area’s deep Democratic roots, politicos agreed that the district could be competitive in the right circumstances.
According to Daily Kos, Trump lost the 22nd district by just less than 4 percent of the vote in 2016. In 2012, former President Barack Obama won it by 28 percentage points. Numbers for 2020 were not yet available.
“I could see how it can be tantalizing,” said veteran GOP operative Chris Nicholas.
It was unclear who Republicans would tap for the run. The Lackawanna County GOP committee did not reply to a request for comment.
The eventual nominees will run in a special election that’ll be scheduled by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. He has yet to announce a date.
The winner of that election will serve out the remainder of Blake’s term in the Senate until 2022. If either representative gets the nomination, that could trigger another special election if they win.