PA Society Rumor Mill Recap
The annual weekend gathering in New York City has come to a close, and we are giving a rundown of some of the top stories and rumors coming out of the receptions.
1. 2022 Rumors.
2022 may seem like a lifetime away, but that didn’t stop the rumors about who would be interested in making a bid for either Governor or Senator. To no surprise, House Speaker Mike Turzai’s (R-Allegheny) name was spread as a potential candidate for Governor in 2022 and told the Philly Clout that he was “very positive on the idea of running for governor” and added that he is taking it “one step at a time.” Although Attorney General Josh Shapiro has a reelection bid in 2020 for his current office, that didn’t stop the talks of him being interested in making a bid for Governor, although he didn’t comment on that possibility to reporters this weekend.
An interesting conversation that was developing at PA Society this year was the discussion of Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) being interested in making a bid for Governor in 2022. According to Philly Clout, Toomey said that he will be “thinking a lot more about my own political future after the election next year,” as the weekend went by.
Other names that were mentioned as possible 2022 candidates were U.S. Attorney for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Bill McSwain, Treasurer Joe Torsela, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, and Reps. Brendan Boyle (D-Philadelphia), Chrissy Houlahan (D-Chester), and Conor Lamb (D-Allegheny).
Oh and before we look to 2022, sources say that Jill Lipman Beck, a Democrat in Allegheny County present at PA Society this weekend, is considering a run for Superior Court in 2021 if a seat opens up.
2. A fight is brewing for GOP National Committeeman.
While a new name emerged from the weekend, a challenge to Bob Asher for the state’s Republican National Committeeman appears likely. In mid-November, former state Senator and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner fired off emails to state Republican committee members titled, “Asher Agenda” accusing the longtime committeeman of orchestrating “dirty politics” with the state party by “pressuring” the GOP Congressional delegation to sign a letter of support for his reelection as opposed to being committed to fighting the current impeachment effort. Asher seemingly fired back in an email to GOP state committee members shortly after this, although he does not mention Wagner by name, in an attempt to reassure members he is working hard to help keep Pennsylvania in the win column for Trump and denies some of the claims Wagner made in the process. People interpreted Wagner’s email about Asher as his entrance into the race, after all, he wrote in the email that he “assured” GOP state committee members that “Asher is going to have very stiff competition in May,” but sources tell PoliticsPA he will not make a push for the seat, but will support a challenger in the race. Sources tell PoliticsPA that Southeast Pennsylvania Republican Caucus Chair Andy Reilly is interested in challenging Asher for the position, while rumors surfaced over the weekend that former lt. Gov. candidate Jeff Bartos could make a push for it as well. Asher, 82, was unanimously reelected to the role along with Christine Toretti in May 2016, and has occupied the position since 1998.
3. The Crowded 2020 Auditor General Race is Well Underway.
The lone statewide race for an open seat in Pennsylvania in 2020 is the race to replace term-limited Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and several hopefuls for the office were present in New York City jockeying for support. On the Democratic side, at least six candidates have formally expressed interest in the seat. Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb, non-profit and former Lancaster County congressional candidate Christina Hartman, former Deputy Philadelphia Mayor Nina Ahmad, and longtime Auditor General office employee Tracie Fountain have all formally joined the race and were seen making the rounds at PA Society. Two other Democrats have also been laying the groundwork for a run at the statewide office. Former Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz, and state Rep. Scott Conklin (D-Centre) also confirmed to PoliticsPA in the Fall their interest in the seat. Butkovitz told PoliticsPA he will run for the seat and plans to have a formal announcement after the new year.
At least three Republicans have expressed interest in the seat, although that list could still grow. Prior to this past weekend, PoliticsPA confirmed that two Republicans, Lancaster County Commissioner Dennis Stuckey and Dauphin County Controller Tim DeFoor were interested in the seat. While Stuckey formally joined the race in November, although he told PoliticsPA back in July that he was mulling a run, it appears that he won’t be the lone candidate for much longer. DeFoor, who was attending his first PA Society this past weekend, told PoliticsPA that he was hearing “great things” about people being interested in him joining the race and plans to make a decision of whether to run or not no later than next week. A third name that surfaced over the weekend from multiple sources was state Rep. Mike Tobash (R-Schuylkill). Tobash has served the 125th District since 2011 and ran unopposed in his most recent reelection bid.
4. Plenty of Democratic Primary Races to Watch in 2020.
Before Democrats can officially launch their uphill battle to reclaim the state House and Senate, there will not be a shortage of races to watch within the party, specifically in Allegheny County and the Philadelphia area. In 2018, various progressive Democrats, some even running under the banner of being Democratic Socialists, claimed victories over longtime party stalwarts in Democratic primary that showed a bit of a changing of the guard in Harrisburg. The buzz around PA Society was that 2020 will provide a series of interesting matchups pitting progressive Democrats challenging elected officials, while a number of recently elected progressives will face more moderate challengers as well.
Here’s just a few races to watch that were being discussed over the weekend.
Starting in Philadelphia, three Democrats names were floated as interested in primarying state Rep. Mary Isaacson in the state House’s 175th District. Vanessa McGrath, a lawyer and businessperson, and Jeff Dempsey, Program Director for CeaseFirePA, formally announced bids for the seat, while Andre Del Valle, President of the Pennsylvania Young Democrats and legislative aide to Philadelphia City Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, is also interested in making a bid according to multiple sources. State Rep. Brian Sims, who faced three Democratic primary challengers in 2016, appears to have another primary fight on his hands with rumors surfacing over the weekend that Marisa Shaaban was interested in making a bid for the seat. State Sen. Larry Farnese, who bested John Morley by nearly 50 points in the 2016 Democratic primary, will have a new challenger next year in Nikil Saval, Democratic Ward Leader in Philadelphia’s 2nd Ward and co-founder of Reclaim Philadelphia.
In the Philadelphia suburbs, a few recently elected state representatives will be facing different kinds of primary fights. State Rep. Danielle Friel-Otten (D-Chester), who was first elected in 2018 after besting state Rep. Becky Corbin (R-Chester), will have a primary challenger, although PoliticsPA couldn’t confirm yet who the candidate that announced will be. Another Chester County Democrat who flipped a GOP held seat in 2018, state Rep. Kristen Howard, is facing a primary challenge from Ginny Kerslake, who ran in the 2019 Democratic Primary for Chester County Commissioner and managed the successful 2018 campaign to elect Friel-Otten, according to the Daily Local News. Also, how could we forget the increasingly crowded field in the state Senate’s 17th District represented by state Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery).
The chatter for western Pennsylvania primary races included two progressives who were elected in 2018. In the state House’s 21st District, Steve Zappala, son of Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. announced over the weekend his intentions to seek the Democratic Party nomination for the seat held by state Rep. Sara Innamorato (D-Allegheny). In 2018, Innamorato bested longtime incumbent state Rep. Dom Costa (D-Allegheny) for the seat in the Democratic Primary. State Rep. Summer Lee (D-Allegheny), who was elected in 2018 after comfortably defeating longtime incumbent state Rep. Paul Costa (D-Allegheny), is facing a challenge from Chris Roland, a North Braddock Borough Councilman, who describes himself as a “moderate,” while Lee is known as the “progressive champion” in the race, according to WESA.
While those progressives are being challenged, a few of the more moderate Democrats are seeking fights from the left in Allegheny County as well, which was a topic of conversation over the weekend. Emily Kinkead, a lawyer from Allegheny County, is launching a Democratic primary bid against state Rep. Adam Ravenstahl (D-Allegheny) for the state House’s 20th District. In the state House’s 36th District, state Rep. Harry Headshaw (D-Allegheny) is facing a primary challenge from Jessica Benham, who has received endorsements from various local progressive elected officials including state Sen. Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny).
5. Some Open Seat Chatter
The primary races provide an interesting dynamic for the upcoming year, but a few open seats in the Philadelphia suburbs garnered attention over the weekend. State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks), who was successful in his bid for Bucks County Commissioner last month, will have to vacate his Democratic friendly seat in lower Bucks County. Rachel Fingles, Bensalem School Board Director, has formally announced her intentions for the seat as a Democrat. On the GOP side, rumors swirled this weekend that KC Tomlinson, daughter of state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks), is interested in possibly making a bid for the open seat.
State Rep. Steve McCarter (D-Montgomery) announced in November that he will not be seeking reelection for the state House’s 154th District. McCarter won his most recent reelection bid by over 60 points, so multiple Democrats are expected to make a bid for the seat. Three names that surfaced this weekend as those interested in the seat were Bill England, Napoleon Nelson, Steve Morris.
6. The Dems Path To a Senate Majority Is Difficult, But Who Will Give It a Go?
After state Sen. John Yudichak (I-Luzerne) announced that he was leaving the Democratic Party to register as an Independent and caucus with Republicans, the Democratic Party’s dream of regaining control of the state Senate after picking up seats in 2018 essentially ended, but various seats are viewed as priorities to continue their march towards control.
Starting in the Philadelphia suburbs, three Democrats have already formally announced their interest in the seat held by state Sen. Tom Killion (R-Delaware). John Kane, business manager for Plumbers Union Local 690, Robert McKinstry, and Brett Burman, a former healthcare executive and Pennsylvania Democratic State committee member, are attempting to unseat Killion, in an area that has rapidly trended towards the Democratic Party.
On the complete opposite end of the state, Democrats view the seat held by state Sen. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) as a must win if they want to have a chance at flipping the chamber. One Democrat has formally joined the race, while a few other names were circulated this weekend. Erie County Councilman Andre Horton announced that he is seeking the Democratic nomination for the state Senate’s 49th District. Sources say that Ron DiNicola, former U.S. Congressional candidate for the 16th District who won the boundaries for the district in his 2018 Congressional bid, hasn’t shut the door on a run for the seat, although his current priority is reportedly on the community college debate in Erie County. Other rumors swirled that a woman in the Wolf administration could jump into the race as well, although PoliticsPA could not confirm the name.
Moving back towards the middle of the state, the Democrats would also need to flip two seats in central Pennsylvania to regain the majority. Sources told PoliticsPA this weekend that George Scott, former congressional candidate in the 10th District, is interested in running for the state Senate’s 15th District against state Sen. John DiSanto (R-Dauphin).
A very tall task for Democrats would be to flip the state Senate’s 13th District held by state Sen Scott Martin (R-Lancaster), who won his most recent reelection by 15 points, but several Democrats are reportedly interested in giving it a go. Lancaster County Commissioner Craig Lehman, Millersville Borough council member Dianne Bates, and Lancaster County Council member Janet Diaz are reportedly interested in the seat.
In addition to flipping those seats for a chance to regain a majority, the Democrats need to insure that they hold all of their seats as well. The race that appeared the garner the most excitement from western Pennsylvania Republicans was the highest profile state Senate race in 2019: the 37th District.
State Sen. Pam Iovino (D-Allegheny) bested former Allegheny County Republican Chairman D. Raja in April 2019 for the open seat in the seat previously occupied by Republican Guy Reschenthaler. Sources said that three Republicans have expressed interest in the rather moderate district in the Pittsburgh suburbs. Devlin Robinson, a businessman and veteran who made a push for the GOP nomination earlier this year, was present at PA Society this year seeking support for the seat. Another Republicans who has formally announced is Sewickley Borough Council President Jeff Neff and sources say that John Rattani expressed interest in the seat as well.
7. Casey, Toomey Take Different Paths Heading into 2020.
Of course the state’s Democratic and Republican Senators have different opinions heading into 2020, but the roles of each official may be different from the previous presidential election. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who didn’t announce that he was voting for Trump in 2016 until the day of the election, was much more open about his support while speaking to the PA GOP Commonwealth Club Luncheon with guest Second Lady Karen Pence, according to Philly Clout. Toomey reportedly defended Trump on the topic of impeachment, claiming he doesn’t see a crime assured the crowd that with “generous support” the country will reelect President Donald Trump, hold the U.S. Senate and have a “shot” at taking back the House.
Casey is fully on board in supporting former Vice President Joe Biden’s bid for the White House and expects to help the Scranton native’s campaign. Casey, who already campaigned for Biden in New Hampshire in early October, told PoliticsPA that he expects to campaign for Biden in the new year, which could include a trip to Iowa. He also expressed his wishes that the state’s primary date, which is later in the primary calendar in late April, was earlier so the state could play a bigger role in selecting the party’s nominee, although he believes Pennsylvania still could be important for the upcoming Democratic presidential primary.