Progressives Score Major Victories in Pennsylvania Primaries

Up and down the ballot, a number of primary challengers to the left of incumbents won in Pennsylvania.

Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

In a number of races up and down the ballot in Pennsylvania on Tuesday night, progressive Democrats scored unexpected victories against incumbents and more conservative challengers.

As the party has been forced to the left in its policy stances by a fervent and enthusiastic base, a number of previous races in the era of President Trump resulted in voters selecting slightly less progressive Democrats. Last week, Richard Cordray won the Ohio Democratic gubernatorial nomination against former Rep. Dennis Kucinich. And before that, Ralph Northam defeated Tom Perriello in his Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary and was then handily elected governor.

Yet there have been a host of contests indicating a desire for Democrats more befitting of the current political environment.

And on Tuesday, that desire won out in some places.

John Fetterman, the burly, bearded mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, won the primary for lieutenant governor, knocking off Democratic incumbent Mike Stack. Fetterman, who ran a strong Senate challenge in 2016, will now join Gov. Tom Wolf’s ticket in November.

“I’m just coming at this in a low-key, overwhelmed, humbled place,” Fetterman reportedly said as he accepted the nomination. “I just want to take our message of ‘All places matter,’ and I’m so honored by the people of Pennsylvania to be the nominee for lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania.”

Recently, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) endorsed Fetterman and campaigned on his behalf.

Voters across the state were also selecting candidates who will compete in an entirely new congressional map in November, following the state Supreme Court’s decision to throw out a previous partisan gerrymander. The new districts, more evenly divided reflecting Pennsylvania’s swing state status, provide fertile ground for Democratic hopes of gaining the majority in the House of Representatives.

In one of the easiest potential pickup opportunities for the Democratic Party, the new 5th Congressional District—now represented by Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), who resigned at the end of April following revelations that he had used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim—Mary Gay Scanlon was declared the winner of the Democratic primary. Scanlon, who has a strong shot of winning the district in November, would be the only woman in the state’s current congressional delegation. But she will likely not be alone.

In the other district ripe for a Democrat win in November, former Allentown solicitor Susan Wild won her primary for the new 7th Congressional District, vacated by retiring Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA). She beat out John Morganelli, a district attorney and centrist Democrat who has expressed some Trump-inclined immigration views and recently scrubbed his Twitter page of tweets supportive of the president. Wild also beat African-American pastor Greg Edwards, who had the support of Sanders and a number of progressive groups.

Nowhere was the success of the left more prevalent than in the shocking statehouse victories of two members of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Summer Lee, a first-time candidate, earned 68 percent of the vote against sitting Democratic incumbent state house Rep. Paul Costa. And Sara Innamorato, the other DSA member, got 65 percent of the vote in a separate race against Costa’s cousin Dom, who was first elected almost a decade ago. Two more DSA members, Elizabeth Fiedler and Kristin Seale, also won their state house primary contests.

The zeal for candidates on the left seemed to extend beyond Pennsylvania as well. In Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, the race had not been called by midnight, but Kara Eastman was narrowly leading former Rep. Brad Ashford (D-NE) in the Democratic primary. It’s a district the Democratic Party had its eyes on capturing in November, and Eastman outperformed the former congressman while campaigning on a Medicare-for-All platform.

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On the Republican side in Pennsylvania, one candidate lost out on an opportunity to serve in Congress for the second time in just two months. State Rep. Rick Saccone, who lost in a shocking upset in a special election earlier this year to Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA), failed to win his primary in a new district that is even more favorable to Republicans.