In some ways, Tuesday’s primary races went much as expected: Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and Gov. Tom Wolf cruised to predictable victories – neither had primary challengers – as did some Republican challengers, like Casey’s GOP opponent, Congressman Lou Barletta. Beyond the top-tier races, a record-setting number of political contests and candidates – spurred by everything from President Donald Trump’s election, to retiring and resigning incumbents, to redrawn political districts – yielded a bumper crop of surprising outcomes.
Here are some highlights from a night that saw dozens of interparty battles draw to a close ahead of the November general election.
Republican Gubernatorial Primary
State Sen. Scott Wagner, a party favorite who secured the state GOP endorsement, came out ahead in the contest to challenge Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf – but not without losing a fair share of Republican support in a race with another Trump-aligned candidate, Paul Mango, who notably drew criticism for his appearance on an internet broadcast of a bizarre gun-worshipping cult leader. A televised ad war with Wagner seemed to diminish both candidates – while a third entrant, lawyer Laura Ellsworth, tried to split the difference to little avail.
For incumbent Democrat Mike Stack, there were too many obstacles to overcome in his reelection bid: a string of ethics scandals, a fraught relationship with Gov. Wolf, and too many qualified challengers. Left-leaning Braddock Mayor John Fetterman pulled ahead in a five-way primary that found Stack in third place – the first incumbent lieutenant governor to ever be unseated in a primary. On the Republican side, Jeff Bartos, a former U.S. Senate candidate who threw in with Wagner, easily triumphed over three other opponents.
Wealthy Democratic candidate Scott Wallace, who earned barbs for his high-flying lifestyle, pulled out a win over former naval officer Rachel Reddick and leftist Steve Bacher. He will go on to challenge U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick – regarded as a vulnerable freshman GOP congressman, thanks to his decidedly unfashionably moderate positions – who handily beat primary rival Dean Malik.
Democratic incumbent Brendan Boyle took on his newly redistricted turf and easily defeated his primary opponent, Michele Lawrence, a former Wells Fargo executive. Lawrence, who touted her industry experience as one of her selling points, did her campaign no favors when she failed to file the most recent campaign finance report as required by law.
Attorney and former Wallingford-Swarthmore School Board President Mary Gay Scanlon beat out a tempestuous Democratic field that included nine other challengers, including five other female candidates and former Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Rich Lazer. Despite Lazer nabbing endorsements from unions and left-wing icon US Sen. Bernie Sanders, and over $1 million in spending from a PAC linked to the powerful electricians union Local 98 on his behalf, Scanlon triumphed as a progressive with deep roots in the diverse, suburban county. In the end, Lazer couldn’t overcome being the South Philly candidate in this overwhelmingly Delco district.
In a chaotic race to succeed retired U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, Susan Wild, a left-leaning former Allentown City Solicitor, beat out a string of Democratic opponents to secure her party’s nomination in a district that was redrawn to favor Democrats. Wild fended off a challenge from conservative Democrat and Northampton County DA John Morganelli, who conceded late Tuesday night. She will go on to face either Marty Nothstein or Dean Browning – with all precincts reporting, Nothstein held a slim eight-vote lead in the closest race of the day and declared victory, but Browning has yet to concede.
Notably, Democrats drew significantly higher primary turnout than Republican in what was a Republican stronghold until this year’s state Supreme Court-ordered redistricting.
Former state Secretary of Revenue Dan Meuser pulled out a win in a hotly contested Republican-leaning district that had been held by now-U.S. Senate candidate Lou Barletta. He triumphed over county commissioner George Halcovage, who found himself battling back allegations of verbal abuse against two women, and will go on to face Democratic victor and farmer Denny Wolf.
The PA GOP placed the party’s hopes on state Rep. Rick Saccone in a special election earlier this year to replace disgraced U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, to no avail. Defeated by Democrat Conor Lamb in a March special election, Saccone nevertheless parlayed the electoral attention into a race for a redrawn, Republican-leaning 14th District – only to lose once more. His opponent, state Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, won with a strong advantage. However, Tuesday’s primary saw GOP candidates garner just as many votes as Democrats – a bad sign in a redrawn district that Republicans had previously hoped to win easily.
Reschenthaler will face Democratic university administrator Bibiana Boerio in November.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, a Marine veteran and lawyer, and incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus both ran unopposed in their respective primaries – but Lamb brought in a vote total that seems to indicate a heavy advantage over Rothfus in November. With 95.38 percent reporting, Rothfus was pulling in just 37,923 votes to Lamb’s 51,466 in the Democratic primary.
PA Senate District 26
Tanner Rouse, the son of the late Philadelphia skyscraper developer Willard Rouse, lost to Swarthmore Mayor Tim Kearney in a Democratic contest to challenge state Sen. Tom McGarrigle in Delaware County. Rouse, a former Philly assistant district attorney, fell short to a sitting politician who had picked up endorsements from other local electeds, including Democratic state Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky.
PA Senate District 38
State Sen. Randy Vulakovich suffered the slings and arrows of a right-wing PAC called the Citizens Alliance and did not survive, politically speaking, to tell the tale. A favorite of GOP Senate leadership, Vulakovich was targeted for allegedly being too moderate for his party and was beaten by conservative Ross Township commissioner Jeremy Shaffer. Shaffer will face Democrat and former Pittsburgh teachers union communications director Lindsey Williams in November.
PA House Districts 20 & 34
Democratic Socialist-endorsed Democratic candidates Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato respectively beat State reps Paul and Dom Costa, both heirs to a storied Western PA political family. Neither will face any currently declared Republican candidates in November. Rep. Dom Costa, who waged a last-minute bid to run as a write-in Republican candidate, looked poised to fall short in that effort late last night. Elsewhere, another Democratic Socialists of America-endorsed candidate, Kristin Seale, pulled out a win in Delaware County’s 168th House District. She will challenge Republican incumbent State Rep. Chris Quinn in November.
PA House District 127
Despite reporting that state Rep. Tom Caltagirone used $248,000 in taxpayer money to defuse a sexual harassment scandal, the incumbent cruised to victory over challenger Manny Guzman. He will face Republican and former Reading city councilman Vince Gagliardo in November.
PA House District 177
Immigration lawyer Joe Hohenstein pulled ahead of several youthful challengers to lock in the Democratic nomination in this Northeast Philly House District. He will go on to face popular community organizer Patty-Pat Koslowski, who ran unopposed in the GOP primary contest.
PA House District 178
A special election in Bucks County saw Democrat Helen Tai decisively beat Republican Wendi Thomas in a race to succeed state Rep. Scott Petri, who left to oversee the Philadelphia Parking Authority last year. Tai, a former Solebury Township supervisor, won endorsements from national figures like former Vice President Joe Biden and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley in a suburb that is viewed as a model for hoped-for Democratic victories in the coming midterm elections.
PA House District 184
Former WHYY reporter Liz Fielder beat a well-funded challenger, JR Rowan, who had ties both to powerful labor unions in this South Philly House seat and retiring incumbent Rep. Bill Keller. Fiedler, who ran on a progressive platform, will face no Republican opponent and will be the presumptive winner in the November general election.
PA House District 191
Former Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia employee Malcolm Kenyatta staved off several Democratic challengers to win a primary contest in North Philadelphia. He will face unlikely Republican opponent Milton Street, brother of former Philly Mayor John Street in November.
PA House District 197
State Rep. Emilio Vazquez won a much-disputed special election to replace convicted former state Rep. Leslie Acosta in the North Philadelphia district. His popularity proved short-lived as former Philadelphia City Council aide Danilo Burgos triumphed in the Democratic primary that will serve as a de facto general election since there are no Republican challengers for the November ballot.
PA House District 200
Freshman incumbent Chris Rabb won his Democratic primary race against Melissa Scott, former chief of staff for Philadelphia City Councilwoman Cherelle Parker. This marks the second time Rabb has run an insurgent campaign against Philly kingmaker Marian Tasco and come out on top – with no Republican opponent, he is virtually assured of returning to Harrisburg in January.