Top 10 State Legislative Primaries to Watch
The Pennsylvania primary is finally here.
Although it is unclear when all of the races will be called as Gov. Tom Wolf has extended mail ballot deadlines by an additional week for Allegheny, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties; there are quite a few races that are worth keeping an eye on in the state legislature for Tuesday night and possibly beyond.
Here’s a breakdown of ten races to watch in the state legislature.
1. SD-17 Democratic Primary: State Sen. Daylin Leach vs Amanda Cappelletti. Delaware + Montgomery Counties
In what the Philadelphia Inquirer is describing as “one of the more unusual primaries in the Philadelphia area,” state Sen. Daylin Leach is facing a primary challenge from Amanda Cappelletti, Vice-Chair of the East Norriton Board of Supervisors. While several Democratic candidates lined up to take on Leach months ago, the field has effectively winnowed down to just Cappelletti and Leach. Cappelletti and several of the candidates who previously announced a bid for the seat said they were aiming to bring “integrity” or “dignity” back to the office and cited sexual assault allegations made against Leach, which he denies. Cappelletti has received support from some high profile Democrats including Gov. Tom Wolf, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and more. Leach ran unopposed for the Democratic Party nomination in 2016 and bested Republican Brian Gondek by 27 points in the general election, according to Ballotpedia.
2. SD-1 Democratic Primary: State Sen. Larry Farnese vs Nikil Saval. Philadelphia
The race has grabbed headlines not only from Philadelphia area news outlets, but has also garnered attention from the New York Times and Jacobin Magazine. The Philadelphia Inquirer describes the matchup between state Sen. Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia) and Nikil Saval, a co-founder of Reclaim Philly, as “the closely watched race” that is “just the latest proxy war between old-school Democratic Party operators, with electricians union boss John J. Dougherty backing Saval, and former State Sen. Vince Fumo in Farnese’s corner.” With Saval carrying the progressive mantle in the race, he’s been endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Reclaim Philly, Philadelphia DSA, and more. Some of Farnese’s highest profile endorsements come from Gov. Tom Wolf, Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia), Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke, and more. In 2016, Farnese bested Democrat John Morley in the primary by nearly 50 points and ran unopposed in the general election, according to Ballotpedia.
3. HD-34 Democratic Primary: State Rep. Summer Lee vs Chris Roland. Allegheny County.
Summer Lee’s Democratic primary victory over former state Rep. Paul Costa (D-Allegheny) was one of the biggest stories from the 2018 Pennsylvania primary. It represented a new era for Dems statewide. Now, Lee faces a primary challenge of her own from North Braddock Councilman Chris Roland. She has the backing of more progressive Democrats such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, and groups service-workers unions, the Young Democrats of Allegheny County, and the Sierra Club, while Roland is being supported by Democratic Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council, and more, according to WESA. Lee cruised to victory in the 2018 primary, defeating Costa by 35 points and ran unopposed in the general election, according to Ballotpedia.
4. HD-28 Republican Primary: Robert Mercuri vs Michael Heckmann vs Libby Blackburn. Allegheny County.
Three Republicans have launched a bid for the seat in Allegheny County after House Speaker Mike Turzai announced he wouldn’t seek reelection in 2020. The outgoing-Speaker has also weighed in on the race by issuing his support for Robert Mercuri, a vice president and financial risk manager for the PNC Financial Services Group and a West Point graduate who deployed to Iraq after 9/11, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Michael Heckmann, a legislative staff member for the Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus, and Libby Blackburn, a member of the North Allegheny School Board, are also seeking the GOP nod. The winner of the primary will take on Democrat Emily Skopov in the general election. Turzai won his most recent bid for office in 2018 by defeating Skopov by just under 9 points, while his victory in 2016 over Democrat John Craig Hammond was a 30 point victory, according to Ballotpedia.
5. HD-36 Democratic Primary: Jessica Benham, Heather Kass, Mark Johnson, and Ed Moeller. Allegheny County.
It’s certainly been one of the most eventful primary races in the state leading up to today. State Rep. Harry Readshaw announced in January that he would not seek a fourteenth term in the state House, opening a four candidate race for the seat in Allegheny County. Jessica Benham, a progressive organizer, Heather Kass, a healthcare worker and mental healthcare advocate, Ed Moeller, a former Baldwin Borough councilmember, and Mark Johnson, a former congressional aide, are all seeking the Democratic Party nod, according to The Incline. The four candidate race has also included endorsement drama. Kass, who was endorsed by the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, had a series of social-media posts that included, “caustic statements about the Affordable Care Act and people with drug addictions, as well as statements supportive of President Donald Trump,” WESA reports. Readshaw ran unopposed for the seat in his most recent reelection bid.
6. HD-20 Democratic Primary: State Rep. Adam Ravenstahl vs Emily Kinkead. Allegheny County.
Yes, another Democratic primary in Allegheny County to keep an eye on. State Rep. Adam Ravenstahl is facing a primary challenge from Emily Kinkead, an attorney. Although Ravenstahl won the 2018 Democratic primary by nearly 20 points, this challenge is different. It’s more serious and better funded. The Incline describes Ravenstahl as leaning “toward the center in a district showing early signs of moving to the left.” Reflecting Ravenstahl’s Pittsburgh City Paper details the fault lines in the race of support with Allegheny County Councilors Bethany Hallam and Liv Bennet, Young Democrats of Allegheny County, Working Families Party, and more supporting Kinkead’s bid, while Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Rep. Mike Doyle, and a number of labor unions are supporting Ravenstahl’s quest for another term. Notably Planned Parenthood’s PAC co-endorsed the candidates. After Ravensthal’s primary victory in 2018, he ran unopposed in the general election.
7. HD-188 Democratic Primary: State Rep. James Roebuck Jr., Greg Benjamin, Karen Dunn, Rick Krajewski. Philadelphia.
This West Philadelphia Democrat has fended off primary challengers in the past, but has three candidates attempting to unseat him in 2020. Roebuck, who has represented the 188th state House District since 1985, is being challenged by Greg Benjamin, a ward leader; Karen Dunn, a former Roebuck staffer; and Rick Krajewski, who the Philadelphia Inquirer describe as the “favorite of the progressive wing.” Billy Penn reports that Roebuck is backed by the Democratic Party and has “widespread support among sitting officials,” while Krajewski has been endorsed by Philadelphia City Councilmembers Kendra Brooks, Jamie Gauthier, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and more. Roebuck bested Democrats Diane Settles and Jeffrey Curry in the 2018 primary by over 30 points and ran unopposed in the general election.
8. HD-12 Republican Primary: State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe vs Scott Timko. Butler County.
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe didn’t face a primary challenger during his last reelection bid, but Scott Timko, a U.S. Air Force veteran and small-business owner is attempting to unseat the controversial conservative lawmaker. Timko, who initially filed to run in the 17th Congressional District to run against Rep. Conor Lamb, decided to still seek office by launching a bid against Metcalfe and isn’t exactly shy about his feelings on him. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Timko said Metcalfe provides “examples of inexcusable, boorish, offensive behavior and a legendary intolerance for a whole lot of people – whether it be lifestyle choice or people who just disagree with him.” Metcalfe fired back in that same article claiming that his opponent is “just parroting the same criticisms that have been levied” against him each election cycle. Metcalfe was unopposed in the GOP primary in 2018 and defeated Democrat Dan Smith by 16 points in the general election, according to Ballotpedia. Smith is also running as a Democrat in 2020 as well.
9. SD-19 Democratic Primary: Kyle Boyer, State Rep. Carolyn Comitta, and Don Vymazal. Chester County.
Three Democrats are aiming to fill the seat, soon to be vacated by state Sen. Andy Dinniman, who announced he was retiring at the end of his current term in February. Kyle Boyer, president of the West Chester NAACP, announced his intentions for the seat while Dinniman was expected to seek another term, while state Rep. Carolyn Comitta and Don Vymazal, who serves as Dinniman’s government relations and policy director. Dinniman quickly announced his support for Vymazal in the race and the Chester County Democratic Committee are also backing him in the race, while Comitta was endorsed by Gov. Tom Wolf for the seat, according to the Daily Local News. Dinniman ran unopposed in the Democratic primary during his most recent bid and bested Republican Jack London by 12 points, according to Ballotpedia. The winner of the Democratic primary is likely to face London, who is running unopposed in the GOP primary.
10. HD-175 Democratic Primary: State Rep. Mary Isaacson, Andre Del Valle, Vanessa McGrath, and Jeff Dempsey. Philadelphia.
State Rep. Mary Isaacson faces her first primary challenge since ward leaders selected her to replace state Rep. Mike O’Brien, who stepped down because of health issues in 2018. The three Democrats attempting to unseat the first term rep and former Chief of Staff to O’Brien are Andre Del Valle, a former staffer to Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez; attorney Vanessa McGrath; and Jeff Dempsey, a former staffer to Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Philadelphia), according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. O’Brien bested Democrat Deborah Derricks in the primary in 2018 by 15 points, according to Ballotpedia before Isaacson ran unopposed in the November general election.