Primary elections: Pennsylvania crucial to Democratic hopes for winning House majority


Democrats hoping to gain as many as half a dozen U.S. House seats in Pennsylvania in November watched closely as voters cast primary ballots in several races on Tuesday.

Opposition to President Trump, a redrawn congressional map and a string of Republican retirements have opened the door for Democrats to boost their numbers in the Pennsylvania delegation.

The party must gain at least 23 seats to win control of the House, and the results of Tuesday’s contests will help shape their outlook for the general election. But before party leaders can focus on November, voters must settle some divisive and crowded Democratic primaries around the country.

Voters headed to the polls in four states on Tuesday: In addition to Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Idaho and Oregon are holding nominating contests.

Polls in Pennsylvania opened at 7 a.m. The state has swung back and forth in recent elections. In 2016, Trump became the first Republican presidential nominee to win the state in 28 years. Earlier this year, Democrat Conor Lamb won a special election in a Pittsburgh-area district where Trump had defeated Hillary Clinton by 20 percentage points.

Pennsylvania also faces a governor’s race and a Senate contest that Democratic incumbents are favored to win, but could become competitive. Trump recorded an 11th-hour robo-call for his preferred Senate candidate, Republican Rep. Lou Barletta.

In the Keystone State, the retirement of Rep. Ryan Costello (R), the resignation of Rep. Patrick Meehan (R) and the revised map ordered by the state Supreme Court have led Republicans to effectively cede two districts in the Philadelphia area.

In one of the districts, Democrats are facing a competitive, crowded primary in which Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) endorsed a candidate, irking the backers of one of his opponents. Sanders also picked sides in an Allentown-area district that Democrats are aiming to pick up in November.

Elsewhere, Democrats are trying to unseat Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R), who is running for reelection in a swing district. Wealthy philanthropist Scott Wallace and military veteran Rachel Reddick are the leading candidates in the Democratic primary.

Republican Rick Saccone, who lost to Lamb in the special election, is seeking redemption in a Pittsburgh-area district that favors the GOP. He has one primary challenger. Lamb has opted to run in a different district near Pittsburgh that is less conservative. He will face Rep. Keith Rothfus (R) in November.

In the Pennsylvania Senate race, incumbent Democratic Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. awaits a possible showdown with Barletta. The Republican got a late boost from Trump, who called him a “very special guy” in the robo-call.

“Lou Barletta was one of the very first people to get behind me in Pennsylvania,” Trump says in the recording. “He was with me early on, before everyone else started jumping on board.”

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf will face the winner of a crowded Republican primary that state Sen. Scott Wagner is favored to win. There are contested primaries for lieutenant governor in both parties.

Sanders endorsed Braddock, Pa., Mayor John Fetterman, who is running on universal health care and marijuana legalization, over Lt. Gov. Mike Stack (D). It’s one of several races where left-wing candidates are trying to replace incumbent Democrats; in Pittsburgh, two longtime lawmakers are being challenged by self-identified Democratic Socialists.

“It’s about filling office after office with people who can make these priorities a reality some day,” Fetterman said.

In Idaho, a competitive Republican primary for governor features three leading candidates: Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, a founding member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus; Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who has the support of outgoing Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter; and Tommy Ahlquist, a businessman and physician who has the support of 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

The leading Democratic candidates are Paulette Jordan, a former state lawmaker who would be the country’s first Native American governor; and A.J. Balukoff, the party’s 2014 nominee.

“People are ready for something new,” Jordan said in an interview. “I’m not about the party; I’m not about the system.”

Nebraska’s Republican senator and governor are favored to keep their seats in November. They will find out who their Democratic opponents will be after Tuesday’s primary.

Trump on Tuesday urged voters to support incumbent Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), tweeting they should “get out to the polls.”

In Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, a pickup opportunity for Democrats, former congressman Brad Ashford is seeking a comeback against nonprofit executive Kara Eastman. The winner of their primary will face Rep. Don Bacon (R).

In Oregon, incumbent Democratic Gov. Kate Brown has drawn a pair of primary challengers but is expected to advance to the general election. The race has attracted a crowded field of Republicans.

Oregon is a heavily Democratic state, and Brown is favored to retain the governorship.

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