Campaigns & Elections

Capitol changes: Legislative races that could shift power in Harrisburg

City & State recaps key state House primaries

The Pennsylvania State Capitol

The Pennsylvania State Capitol The Office of Governor Tom Wolf via Flickr

There were plenty of closely contested primary races – some of which are still too close to call – with potentially power-shifting implications in Harrisburg. Several incumbents faced serious challengers on the primary ticket, with some holding off their opponent while others had to concede defeat in an upset. 

Here’s a breakdown of some noteworthy Capitol contests and where they stand as of Wednesday. 

Brown v. Green

The race between Democratic incumbent state Rep. Amen Brown and challenger Cass Green remains too close to call as of Wednesday morning. With more than 90% of expected votes counted, Brown has 2,751 votes to Green’s 2,640 – a 1.5% difference. 

Green, a community organizer and progressive challenger backed by the Working Families Party and several Philadelphia legislators, narrowed the margin overnight but remains behind Brown, who is seeking his third term. 

The primary has been seen as a microcosm of the city’s shifting politics – with a more moderate Democrat and a progressive facing off for the 10th district in West Philadelphia. It’s also a rematch of the 2022 primary, where Brown nearly got kicked off the ballot for failing to disclose debts, then narrowly edged out Green, winning reelection by fewer than 200 votes.

Gregory upset

Republican challenger Scott Barger appears poised to knock off incumbent state Rep. Jim Gregory in the 80th House District, as unofficial election returns from the Pennsylvania Department of State show Barger leading Gregory by 999 votes at press time. That currently gives Barger a 55% to 45% lead over Gregory in the race; Barger claimed victory on Tuesday night. “So tonight, we will begin the next chapter of this campaign – the campaign to win back the House Republican Majority – the campaign to put our agenda on offense, not defense,” he said, according to a campaign Facebook post. 

Gregory helped propel Democratic state Rep. Mark Rozzi to a short-lived stint as House speaker in 2023, nominating Rozzi for the role. At the time, Gregory cited Rozzi’s independent streak as the reasoning behind his support; however, Gregory later urged Rozzi to resign the speakership, accusing Rozzi of breaking his trust. 

Cutler hangs on against Nissley

House Republican Minority Leader Bryan Cutler held on to his 100th House District seat in Lancaster County after facing a competitive challenge from conservative David Nissley. 

Cutler, who has previously served as House majority leader and House speaker, defeated Nissley 54% to 46%, besting Nissley by between 600 and 700 votes, according to unofficial election returns.

Dougherty over Boyle

Another closely watched race in Philadelphia featured seven-term incumbent State Rep. Kevin Boyle and Sean Dougherty – the nephew of former Philadelphia union leader John Dougherty. 

Boyle, who has been dealing with ongoing mental health issues, had an arrest warrant put out against him last week related to an alleged violation of a protective order. But Philadelphia police withdrew the charges against Boyle Monday, a day before the primary election, saying no such active protective order had been in place.

Amid the personal and legal issues, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party backed the challenger over the incumbent, putting more than $300,000 into Dougherty’s campaign in Northeast Philadelphia in recent weeks. And as the results came in Tuesday night, it became clear Dougherty was on his way to a victory. 

As of Wednesday, Dougherty had more than 3,400 votes – 71% of the electorate – compared to Boyle’s nearly 1,290 votes. 

The 117th House District remains too close to call

Republican state Rep. Mike Cabell, who represents part of Luzerne County in the state’s 117th House District, is currently behind in the GOP primary, with the race separated by eight votes as of Tuesday night, according to the Standard-Speaker, a Hazleton-area newspaper.  

Parental rights advocate James Walsh is currently in the lead with 4,723 votes, compared to Cabell’s 4,715 votes, according to unofficial election returns. On election night, Cabell noted that some provisional and military ballots still have to be counted, according to the Standard-Speaker.