(*This story has been updated to include comment for a surrogate for Democratic 10th Congressional District candidate candidate Eugene DePasquale)
Pennsylvania’s primary election is a little more than two weeks away. And if we know one thing about it, it’s that it’s going to look like no election we’ve seen in our lifetime.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, every rite of campaign season that we’ve long taken for granted: Candidates knocking on doors; giant stadium and outdoor rallies; debates and parties have all been scrapped. Instead, we’ve been deluged with emails, invited to Zoom meetings, and watched as candidates campaigned from home through Facebook Live, YouTube, or other social channels.
This year, the way we vote will also be different. County officials are expecting a flood of mail-in ballots. And because of the pandemic, counties are moving to consolidate their polling places — and we’ll be tackling that very complicated subject in a separate story here:
But there’s one thing about campaigns and elections that never changes: A bushel basket of candidates all looking for your vote. From the highest office in the land — president of the United States — to a contest for a statewide row office and the General Assembly, Pennsylvanians face no shortage of choices. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you make up your mind as Election Day closes in.
Before we get started, a few housekeeping notes:
- The deadline to register to vote was May 18. You can check your registration status here.
- The deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot is May 26. You can do that here. And if you do vote by mail, that means you’re staying home on June 2. Also note, the ballot must be returned by 8 p.m. on Election night.
- And if you’re an independent, sorry, you’re out of luck. Pennsylvania’s primaries are closed elections, meaning only registered Democrats and Republicans are allowed to cast ballots.
All right, with that out of the way, here’s a look at who’s running for what on Election Day.
President of the United States
If you’re a registered Democrat, you’ll notice three names on your ballot. But only one of them is actually still running.
Both U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, dropped out of the race weeks ago. That’s made the contest a one-horse race, with former Vice President Joe Biden, of Delaware, the last Democrat left standing to challenge President Donald Trump in this November’s general election.
Biden, who served eight years under former President Barack Obama, has roots in Scranton. And, in observance of Delaware’s stay-at-home order, the ex-Veep has been campaigning from his basement, making frequent television appearances. Many of the most recent ones have found him defending himself against an allegation of sexual assault by a former aide named Tara Reade. Biden has denied any wrongdoing in the incident.
We’d need an entirely separate story to catalogue Trump’s scandals and controversies. He comes to the primary as just the third president in American history to ever be impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives. He evaded conviction in the U.S. Senate.
As most readers will recall, Trump carried Pennsylvania by barely a percentage point over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. And both sides are intent on keeping the Keystone State, a critical 2020 battleground state, boasting 20 Electoral College votes, in their column this November.
As of this writing, Biden holds an average 4.9 percent lead over Trump in the RealClear Politics polling average. The most recent Pennsylvania numbers, courtesy of an April 23 Fox News canvass, showed Biden with a 50-42 lead over Trump in the commonwealth. Biden has an average 6.5 percent lead over Trump in the RealClear Politics average. But just like life, everything is subject to change.
Pennsylvania Auditor General
The only other, contested statewide race on the ballot on June 2 is the six-way Democratic primary for Pennsylvania Auditor General. Current incumbent Democratic Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, of York County, has served the constitutional maximum of two terms, and is now campaigning for the Democratic nomination for central Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District.
The Democratic candidates are state Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre; Rose Davis, a CPA from Monroe County; veteran Auditor General Department employee Tracie Fountain, of Dauphin County; former congressional hopeful Christina Hartman; former 2018 lieutenant governor hopeful Nina Ahmad, of Philadelphia, and Michael Lamb, currently Allegheny County’s controller.
The winner faces Republican Tim DeFoor, who’s now Dauphin County’s controller. He is unopposed.
Attorney General and State Treasurer
Democratic incumbent Attorney General Josh Shapiro, and Democratic incumbent Treasurer Joe Torsella, both of Montgomery County, and both of whom are up for re-election this year, do not have Democratic primary opponents.
Shapiro, the commonwealth’s top law enforcement officer, will likely face Pittsburgh attorney Heather Heidlebaugh, who is unopposed for the GOP nod, while Torsella, who manages the commonwealth’s debt and investments, will likely face Army veteran and Bradford County Republican Stacy Garrity, also unopposed.
The 1st Congressional District
The District: The 1st District consists of all of Bucks County as well as a portion of eastern Montgomery County.
Candidates: Incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is seeking his third term in office.
Fitzpatrick is one of just three GOP Congressmen to represent a district that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. His older brother, the late Mike Fitzpatrick, served in this seat from 2005 to 2007 and again from 2011 to 2017.
Brian Fitzpatrick is facing a challenge on the right from financial advisor Andy Meehan. The Bucks County Republican Party has denounced Meehan for comments he made online.
The Democratic primary is a contest between Ivyland Borough Councilwoman Christina Finello and small business owner Skylar Hurwitz.
Finello has been endorsed by the Bucks County Democratic Committee and the Montgomery County Democratic Committee. Our Revolution, a super PAC started by members of Bernie Sanders’ campaign team, is backing Hurwitz.
Congressman Refuses Primary Debate With Opponent – LevittownNow
The 8th Congressional District
Six Republicans are battling for votes to take on 4-term incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright in the northeastern Pennsylvania-based seat. The primary includes two decorated veterans, the former mayor of the district’s third largest city, and a former Trump appointee.
The District: Democrats and Republicans have some reasons to be optimistic for their chances of winning the seat. The district includes all of Lackawanna, Pike and Wayne counties as well as majorities of Monroe and Luzerne counties. It includes democratic strongholds in cities like Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, many suburbs and large swaths of rural areas. It swung from President Barack Obama in 2012 to then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016, mostly on the strength of Trump’s showing in Luzerne County. That development was chronicled in a book, “The Forgotten,” by Boston Globe editor Ben Bradlee Jr. Cartwright, however, won re-election handily in 2018 with 54 percent of the vote.
The Candidates: These are the six Republicans running for a chance to unseat Cartwright in November.
Jim Bognet, who was an appointee to the federal Import-Export bank, regularly touts his connections to president Trump. As of March 31, he raised the second most money of any of the candidates.
Mike Cammisa will turn 25 in June. He’s regularly volunteered in his community, worked on Capitol Hill, and graduated a masters degree in international affairs.
Teddy Daniels spent his life in the military, as a police officer and an entrepreneur. He’s not afraid of using some strong language to get his points across.
Earl Granville, a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, bagged the endorsement of House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy in January. Granville, who lost a leg during combat, has been a strong advocate for term limits.
Harry Haas is a teacher and has been a Luzerne County Council member. He has been in the county government since it reorganized to a council system.
Michael Marsicano, who served as a Democrat as mayor of Hazleton, leads all the Republican candidates in fundraising, according to Open Secrets. The former Pennsylvania State Trooper and commercial pilot, became a Republican two years ago. He’s made stopping Nancy Pelosi a large part of his campaign.
Issues: Policy issues haven’t been the centerpiece of the race, rather it’s been a debate over which Republican is sufficiently Trump-y enough, as reported in a PoliticsPA story.The candidates have often used Cartwright as a surrogate for U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Gov. Tom Wolf. Several of them describe Cartwright as Pelosi’s “lapdog” on their websites. Meanwhile Daniels has attacked Wolf, calling him a “jackass” for the way he has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 10th Congressional District
Voters will choose from two Democrats: Incumbent Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, of York County, and attorney Tom Brier, of Dauphin County. The winner goes on to face Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, of York County, in November.
As the Capital-Star reported earlier this month, Perry, a member of the House’s ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus, is one of the Top 10 most-endangered congressional incumbents in 2020, according to a rankings list put together by Roll Call, a publication that covers Capitol Hill.
Thanks to a new map imposed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2018, the 10th District has changed since Perry first won election. The suburbs of Dauphin and Cumberland counties, long dependable GOP strongholds, have trended more purple to blue in recent years.
Perry, a former state House member, narrowly won re-election in 2018 against pastor and veteran George Scott by 3 percentage points in the redrawn district.
DePasquale has netted the establishment Democratic support in the primary contest, and is campaigning with the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But he’s lost the support of some establishment African-American voters in Harrisburg, a key part of the Democratic base. *A surrogate for DePasquale, Harrisburg City Councilman Dave Madsen, said DePasquale will be able to marshal that support.
DePasquale had $657,000 in his campaign coffers at the end of the first quarter compared to Perry’s $815,000, which means the Democratic hopeful has some ground to make up. And it’s hard to count out Brier, whose fund-raising faded after an initial burst, but who remains an energetic presence on the trail.
The 18th Congressional District
This race pits veteran Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle against University of Pittsburgh law professor Jerry Dickinson.
The District: The 18th Congressional District includes the city of Pittsburgh and several communities south and east of the city, including middle-class suburbs like Bethel Park, Brentwood and Monroeville as well as lower-income communities like Braddock, Rankin and McKeesport.
The Candidates: Doyle was first elected to the seat in 1994, and is currently the longest-serving active Pennsylvania legislator. The 18th, once represented by Republican Rick Santorum, is now considered a safely blue district.
Doyle, 66, has touted his seniority in Congress as an asset to southwestern Pennsylvania; he says his role on the House Energy and Commerce Committee has helped bring jobs and federal money to the region. He puts a heavy emphasis on funding for infrastructure and research and development and has pivoted in the past few weeks toward COVID-19 assistance for workers and businesses.
”We must create jobs to help our economy recover from #COVID19,” Doyle tweeted on May 20. “I joined Rep. Debbie Dingell in urging House Leadership to invest in restoration projects that would create good-paying jobs, such as restoring public lands and bolstering community resilience to extreme weather.”
Dickinson, 33, is challenging Doyle from the left (and unexpectedly picked up a recent endorsement from actor Susan Sarandon).
“My pathway to politics is not typical,” Dickinson said in his campaign video. He grew up in a large, multi-racial foster family. “My family has faced poverty and I know firsthand the challenges so many in this district face.”
Dickinson’s priorities are closely aligned with such progressives as U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., with a focus on raising the minimum wage, the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, affordable housing, and reducing gun violence.
State representatives are elected for two year terms every two years. There are 203 of them in the state’s lower chamber, who debate, introduce, amend and vote on new laws and the state’s annual budget.
If 2018 was the year Pennsylvania’s left took on the establishment, 2020’s primary day narrative is nowhere near as clear.
First things first — 14 seats, from Pittsburgh to Punxsutawney to Pottsville, are open due to retirements, providing for some of this year’s races.
For Democrats, progressives are still challenging establishment incumbents — who sometimes are, arguably, just as progressive. In other cases, the establishment is trying to take down a progressive. And in still others, the establishment up and quit, leaving the fight for another day.
Meanwhile, some Republicans are also facing challenges on June 2, either for parochial political beefs or ideological reasons.
You can read some of our earlier coverage here:
- Despite a liberal record, veteran state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, is facing his first primary in two decades over 2018 switcheroo
- Arch-conservative state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, is an “extremist,” says opponent Scott Timko. Metcalfe’s retort? Timko is a “clown.”
- An outspoken opponent of pipelines, state Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, D-Chester, is at odds with trade unions and faces a primary challenger. Her former campaign manager is primarying Rep. Kristine Howard, D-Chester, for not opposing pipelines enough.
- After winning reelection by 13 votes, state Rep. Bud Cook, R-Fayette, is at the center of an inter-chamber brawl, as GOP state Sen. Camera Bartolotta backs an ally to best Cook.
- Outspoken progressive Rep. Summer Lee, D-Allegheny, ran and won in a primary last year against a longtime incumbent Democrat backed by the county party. Now in office, Lee must once again beat an opponent back by the county party.
- In Philadelphia, fresh faced progressives are challenging Democratic state Rep. Jim Roebuck and state Sen. Larry Farnese. The ideological distinctions are arguably slim, but do the veterans still match their changing districts?
- Oh, and up to six primaried Democratic lawmakers used state dollars to finance Facebook ads celebrating their records.
State senators in Pennsylvania serve four-year terms, and half the chamber’s 50 members are up for reelection this year.
So far, 23 incumbent lawmakers are campaigning to keep their seats. Many of them will run unopposed in the June 2 races, but a few will face contested primaries.
One of the most closely watched races will take place in suburban Philadelphia’s 17th District, where Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, has represented voters since 2009.
Leach, who has been accused of inappropriate workplace behavior as a senator, has held on to his seat even while his Democratic colleagues called for his resignation.
Though a half-dozen people announced campaigns last year to unseat Leach, just three of them filed paperwork in February to get on the June 2 ballot.
Another of the marquee races is in Erie County in northwestern Pennsylvania, where local Democrats will pick between Andre Horton, a two-term Erie County Councilman, and Julie Slomski, former chief of staff for state Rep. Ryan Bizzaro, D-Erie. The winner goes on to face GOP incumbent Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie.
Horton was elected to County Council in 2013, the first African-American to serve in the body. An Air Force veteran and Erie native, Horton is also a member of the trade union Laborers Local 603, and has been for more than 30 years.
According to a Ballotpedia survey, Horton’s main issues are the economy, education and public health and safety. He did not provide policy details in the survey or on his website.
Slomski, also an Erie native, joined the Wolf administration in 2015 after her time in Bizzaro’s office, serving as Wolf’s regional director for the Erie-area.
She would push for “access to health care that is actually affordable, protecting workers in a changing economy, giving our seniors more opportunity and choice [and] better schools for our kids,” according to Slomski’s campaign website.
Earlier this year the liberal Super PAC American Bridge announced they are working to flip Republican senatorial seats in swing states, including Pennsylvania. Among their targets are Laughlin, PoliticsPA reported.
In the state’s 1st Senate District, Nikil Saval, a writer and organizer, is mounting a progressive challenge to incumbent Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia. Saval has campaigned in the style of progressive superstars such as U.S. Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., on a platform that includes Medicare for All and a Green New Deal for Pennsylvania.
Other districts will see competitive primary races among candidates hoping to unseat Senators from opposing parties in November.
In the 9th District in Delaware County , three Democrats are in the running to challenge incumbent Republican Sen. Tom Killion, who is running unopposed.
Sen. Pam Iovino, the Democrat who won a tightly contested special election in suburban Pittsburgh last year, will likewise run unopposed in June.
But Republican voters in the 37th Senate District will choose between two candidates who hope to flip Iovino’s seat back to GOP control in November.
Though the state House saw a wave of retirements this year, only two state Senators announced they would not seek reelection when their current terms expire: Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, and Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-Chester.
That means that voters in Scarnati’s 25th Senate District, which covers wide swaths of rural north-central Pennsylvania, will get a new voice in the state Senate for the first time since 2001.
Scarnati’s retirement has spurred a three-way race among Republicans who hope to succeed him. They’re scheduled to debate in a televised town hall on Friday, May 22.
The winner will face Maggie Browne, the district’s lone Democratic candidate, in the general election.
In Dinniman’s suburban Philadelphia district, meanwhile, one Republican and three Democrats including state Rep. Carolyn Comitta, D-Chester, will compete in primaries on June 2.
Capital-Star Editor John L. Micek, Associate Editor Cassie Miller, Staff Reporters Stephen Caruso and Elizabeth Hardison, along with Correspondents Patrick Abdalla, Nick Field, Kim Lyons, and Hannah McDonald, contributed reporting to this piece. It was compiled by Micek.