Lawmakers navigate Pennsylvania primary with unknown maps
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — It’s been two months since the controversial, once-a-decade process to redraw Pennsylvania’s legislative districts ended, and now hundreds of candidates hoping to unseat state lawmakers are rushing their heads dropped in the home stretch of a primary election will drastically reduce their numbers.
The state’s Legislative Redistricting Commission has produced a map reflecting dramatic demographic shifts and giving Democrats hope they can secure seats in a General Assembly controlled by Republican majorities for nearly all of the past three decades.
For many incumbents, the changes require them to pitch themselves — and sell themselves — to thousands of potential new voters.
Ahead of voters in the May 17 primary election, there will be candidates for all 203 House seats and 25 of the 50 Senate seats.
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In the House, 32 members are not seeking re-election, with a handful running for the Senate or other offices. Five Senate seats, all held by members of the Republican caucus, are vacant due to retirements.
More than 60 state representatives and four senators face no opposition in primary or general elections, so they have effectively already won another term, simply by qualifying for the ballot. In 24 House precincts and two Senate precincts, the incumbent faces only one primary challenge, so even if he loses his party, he will retain the seat.
In total, voters can expect to have a choice in the fall between a Republican and a Democrat in about half of the House and in 19 Senate districts.
The main GOP challengers have targeted some veteran incumbents, including Lancaster County Chairman Bryan Cutler and York County Appropriations Chairman Stan Saylor. In both constituencies, no Democrats are running.
In his primary run, Cutler defends how he handled former President Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election, funding for fetal tissue research and the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 — perhaps surprising for a Republican chosen as leader after years of being a reliable voting conservative in Harrisburg.
Cutler said the current mood among voters in his rural district appears to be driven by the pandemic, and he has tried to direct that discontent at the state’s Democratic governor and the Democratic-majority Supreme Court.
“The concern of the electorate is very real in terms of frustration with the government,” Cutler said. “I just think we need to focus more appropriately on the real causes.”
Three pairs of House incumbents fight after being dragged into districts together.
In a rural area northwest of Harrisburg, Rep. Perry Stambaugh faces a GOP primary against his northern neighbor, Rep. Johnathan Hershey. And southwest of Allentown, the battle between Representatives Ryan Mackenzie and Gary Day has raised eyebrows among fellow Republicans.
Mackenzie, who served in the Republican caucus with Day for a decade, set up a website attacking Day as “greedy”, “heartless” and insufficiently conservative on guns and taxes.
Philadelphia Democratic Representatives Isabella Fitzgerald and Chris Rabb are competing, with a third Democrat. A Republican is also on the ballot.
In an Allegheny County district, newly sworn in state Representative Martell Covington has four Democratic opponents, his reward for winning a special election last month after Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey left the Legislative Assembly .
“It’s been a unique challenge for me personally to try to carry out my duties and continue to campaign,” Covington said this week, the morning after attending two candidate forums. “It was definitely a balancing act. But it was exciting.
The effects of the redistricting are being felt in suburban Harrisburg, where two House seats held by Republicans will permanently shift to Democrats later this month. GOP Reps. Sue Helm and Andrew Lewis both decided not to seek re-election after redrawn borders made their precincts majority Democratic. Republicans did not field primary candidates in either race.
The redesigned lines have drawn four challengers to Democratic Harrisburg State Rep. Patty Kim, whose district now straddles the Susquehanna River. There are two other Democrats in the primary and a pair of Republicans vying to run in the fall.
Four state representatives are trying to hedge their bets, seeking re-election while pursuing higher office: Democratic Representatives Summer Lee for the Pittsburgh Congress, Austin Davis for Lt. Governor, and Malcolm Kenyatta for the U.S. Senate; and Republican Representative Russ Diamond for lieutenant governor. Two other lieutenant governor hopefuls, Rep. Carrie Lewis DelRosso, R-Allegheny, and Rep. Brian Sims, D-Philadelphia, are giving up their legislative seats.
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In the state Senate, unopposed in the primary or general elections, are Democrats Christine Tartaglione of Philadelphia and Wayne Fontana of Allegheny, and Republicans Pat Stefano de Fayette and Camera Bartolotta in Washington.
There are five senatorial constituencies without an incumbent. Republican Senators Tommy Tomlinson of Bucks, Bob Mensch of Montgomery, Jake Corman of the Center and Mario Scavello of Monroe all chose not to run again, as did the chamber’s only independent, Senator John Yudichak of Luzerne, who caucused with the Republicans.
Corman, the Senate’s top leader and gubernatorial candidate, saw his district moved by the Legislative Redistribution Commission to the western suburbs of Harrisburg, where the population is growing. Yudichak chose not to run again after being dragged into a district with Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, and his seat moved to the Lehigh Valley.