Pennsylvania 2020 primary: An unprecedented election, with still-incomplete results

Voters wait in a socially distanced line outside their polling place in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Voters wait in a socially distanced line outside their polling place in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

After a primary election was thrown into chaos by a pandemic and buffeted by civil unrest, Pennsylvania voters likely won’t see conclusive results for at least a few days.

Thanks to newly-expanded mail-in ballot laws, a pandemic-inspired spike in remote voting, sluggish mail, and protests that sparked daily curfews right before the election, several counties say they need extra time to count votes.

Six counties — Philadelphia, Montgomery, Delaware, Allegheny, Erie and Dauphin — will still be accepting mail-in ballots postmarked by June 2 for an extra week thanks to an executive order from the governor. Bucks also has an extra week after a successful, last-minute emergency petition — though its order only applies to ballots mailed by June 1.

In the Philadelphia region, where a significant portion of the state’s registered voters live, nearly all of the area counties need more time to count ballots.

However, as election night wound down, there were some interesting trends — and a few declared victories — that emerged from the incomplete returns.

An incumbent senator struggles

In many ways, the Democratic primary for the 17th state Senate district really began more than two years ago.

In late 2017, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a story about incumbent state Sen. Daylin Leach, a progressive who has held the seat representing parts of Delaware and Montgomery counties since 2009. The report included accounts from several women who had worked with Leach on campaigns and in his office, who said he’d touched them in ways that made them uncomfortable and made sexual jokes they found inappropriate.

Leach’s challenger is East Norriton Board of Supervisors Vice Chair and former Planned Parenthood policy director Amanda Cappelletti. She generally aligns with him politically, and so has instead built much of her campaign around his behavior.

“The way in which he handled the allegations — the intimidation, the bullying, the name-calling, not just of people who have called him out but of his own colleagues. It’s not behavior that I expect of my public officials,” she said in a recent interview.

Of Cappelletti, Leach said he is “unaware that she has a platform…all of her political communication is just negative attacks.”

At midnight on primary day, Cappelletti was leading Leach 59% to 41%.

Moderates dominate the race in the 1st Congressional District

It was always going to be a tough race for the two non-establishment-backed candidates in PA-01, a moderate district that encompasses all of Bucks County and part of Montco.

On the Democratic side, tech consultant Skylar Hurwitz ran as a progressive focused on Medicare for All, canceling student debt and instituting paid family and sick leave. He was up against Bucks County solicitor and Ivyland Borough Councilmember Christina Finello, who centered her campaign on backing unions and protecting the Affordable Care Act.

Finello got the mainstream endorsements from county Democratic committees, AFSCME District Council 47 and sitting congressional representatives.

And as the clock ticked past midnight and she led Hurwitz 77% to 23%, she declared victory and turned her messaging toward incumbent Republican Brian Fitzpatrick.

“This November, the voters of Bucks and Montgomery Counties have a simple choice,” her campaign wrote in a statement. “They can have a congresswoman like me who will always look out for their interests, or they can continue with Brian Fitzpatrick — who has shown blind loyalty to President Trump.”

Fitzpatrick was more coy as election night wound down.

In an email, a spokeswoman for his campaign said only, “We are confident in the strong showing we saw at the polls today and look forward to seeing the rest of the votes as they come in.”

Fitzpatrick led his challenger, Andy Meehan, 56% to 44%.

The second term congressman played up his moderate record throughout the campaign. However, while he was backing bipartisan pandemic relief efforts in Washington, Fitzpatrick also made a point to communicate closeness with President Donald Trump — echoing his rhetoric blaming China for the spread of the novel coronavirus in his campaign messaging.

Meehan, meanwhile, was largely ignored by the district’s GOP establishment. His campaign stressed Fitzpatrick’s distance from the president, and promised a candidate who would align himself more closely with Trump.

He named his top campaign issues as Second Amendment rights and security along the southern border.

In 5th District, Republican primary too close to call

Approaching midnight on Tuesday, the race between two Republican candidates in the party primary to represent a swath of southeastern Pennsylvania was still close to call.

With nearly 29% of precincts reporting, first-time candidates Dasha Pruett and Rob Jordan were running neck and neck, separated by just a few hundred votes.

The seat is currently held by U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary. The district covers all of Delaware County, as well as part of South Philadelphia and a small piece of Montgomery County. It was one of the seats Democrats picked up after the state Supreme Court’s 2018 gerrymandering decision remapped the district, and a cluster of female candidates won seats in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Dasha Pruett is a 50-year-old financial administrative assistant and photographer who lives in Drexel Hill. She was drawn into politics after the election of Trump, and her campaign cites much of the same rhetoric and policies on national issues as the current White House administration. Her campaign signs in the district read, “Make Delco Great Again.”

Running against her for the nomination is 54-year-old Rob Jordan, a senior sales executive with Highmark Blue Cross. Campaigning on a more traditional Republican platform, Jordan put forward a financial platform focused on bringing more jobs to the region and extending tax cuts.

Whichever candidate wins as ballots continue flowing in during the coming days, he or she faces an uphill battle in the November election. The re-drawn 5th Congressional District has more registered Democrats in its boundaries, and Scanlon is running not only with the advantage of incumbency, but also substantial financial support. On top of that is the difficulty of a new candidate garnering recognition and connecting with voters during a pandemic, which has rendered traditional fundraisers, retail politics and door knocking all but impossible.

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