An intense last-minute push by establishment Democrats and environmentalists to shore up their preferred Senate Democratic nominee paid off in Pennsylvania last night, as former White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Katie McGinty won the right to take on Republican Sen. Pat Toomey in November.
Pennsylvania voters yesterday also ousted the first House lawmaker in the primary stage of the 2016 cycle, forcing Rep. Chaka Fattah (D) out of his Philadelphia-based 2nd District — and freeing him up to focus solely on the federal criminal trial he is set to face May 16.
But House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R) avoided a similar fate in his 9th District, narrowly claiming victory over repeat challenger and retired Coast Guard Capt. Art Halvorson in the GOP primary.
In the Senate Democratic primary, McGinty handily defeated former Rep. Joe Sestak 43 percent to 33 percent, with 98 percent of precincts reporting. Braddock Mayor John Fetterman placed third with 19 percent of the votes.
Polls in recent weeks had shown the race in a statistical tie between McGinty and Sestak, with Fetterman a distant third (E&E Daily, April 26).
But the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and outside groups including the Environmental Defense Action Fund spent heavily in the final weeks of the campaign to push McGinty over the finish line. Even President Obama lent a voiceover in a 30-second television spot for McGinty after both he and Vice President Joe Biden endorsed her candidacy.
Democrats have made Pennsylvania one of their top targets in the 2016 cycle as the party looks to flip the five seats it needs to retake the Senate majority it lost in the 2014 election. Democrats need four seats if the party retains the White House.
"We are proud to congratulate Katie McGinty on her victory in tonight’s primary. Katie begins the general election in a strong position to defeat Senator Pat Toomey. As the ninth of ten kids and the first in her family to go to a four-year college, Katie understands the issues facing working folks in Pennsylvania, and she is ready to tackle those issues with commonsense solutions," DSCC Executive Director Tom Lopach said in a statement.
Toomey attacked both Sestak and McGinty during the primary, focusing on the latter’s movement between posts at the state Department of Environmental Protection and environmental consulting company Weston Solutions Inc. He starts the general election with a hefty cash advantage, reporting $9.1 million in his campaign coffers in early April. McGinty reported $954,000 in her campaign account at that time.
Toomey’s campaign reiterated its criticism about McGinty in a statement last night, calling her a "far-left machine politician."
"Katie McGinty supports every item on her party bosses’ liberal agenda, and is Pennsylvania’s number one abuser of the revolving door between government and corporate boards. McGinty makes government work for her, not for us, and that’s not what our state is looking for in a U.S. Senator," Toomey spokesman Ted Kwong said in a statement.
Toomey faced Sestak in his first Senate election in 2010, when he defeated the Democrat by 2 points to win the open-seat race.
First House casualty
Fattah became the first lame duck in the House this cycle after falling to state Rep. Dwight Evans, who won, 42 percent to 35 percent.
Evans, who lost a 2007 Philadelphia mayoral bid and a 1994 gubernatorial bid, had won endorsements from the state’s Democratic establishment, including Gov. Tom Wolf, former Gov. Ed Rendell and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney.
Fattah faced an uphill challenge to retain his seat after being charged with racketeering in July over allegations that he misused campaign funds and federal grants, accepted bribes and made false statements to investigators. He has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence and is set to face criminal trial next month.
"There were forces arrayed against us tonight of very powerful and influential people," Fattah said in a concession speech at a Center City union hall event.
Evans will proceed to the general election in November, where he will be heavily favored over Republican James Jones, who was unopposed for the GOP nomination.
In the south-central Pennsylvania 9th District, an aggressive television campaign — touting his conservative credentials — paid off for Shuster as he faced a rematch with Halvorson (E&ENews PM, March 1).
Shuster won 50.5 percent of the vote to Halvorson’s 49.5 percent, with all precincts reporting. But the narrow victory marked a sharp improvement for Halvorson, who took 35 percent to Shuster’s 53 percent in the 2014 cycle.
During the primary, Halvorson criticized Shuster for his personal relationship with Shelley Rubino, a lobbyist for the airline industry trade group Airlines for America, asserting that it is "grounds for him to resign."
Shuster dismissed Halvorson’s criticisms, insisting that while Rubino lobbies Democrats on the committee, she does not work with Shuster or his staff.
Shuster’s win will allow him to carry on the family legacy in the district. He has held the congressional seat since 2001, when he won a special election to succeed his father, Bud Shuster. The elder Shuster had held the seat for nearly 30 years and likewise helmed the Transportation panel.
Although Shuster reported a war chest of $1.4 million in early April, he won’t need much of it for the general election.
No Democratic candidates registered to run in the solidly red district, all but assuring that Shuster will walk to an easy re-election in November.
Republican Rep. Patrick Meehan and Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle were the only other incumbent Pennsylvania lawmakers to face primary challenges, but both easily won their bids against minor candidates.
Voters also set the general election slate in a pair of open-seat races in Pennsylvania last night, including a competitive race where Democrats hope to flip control of a GOP-held seat.
In the suburban Philadelphia 8th District — which political observers see as a "toss-up" race in November — retired FBI agent Brian Fitzpatrick led a three-candidate field to win the GOP nomination to replace his brother, retiring Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick.
Brian Fitzpatrick took 78 percent of the vote with all precincts reporting against psychologist Marc Duome and former Bucks County Commissioner Andrew Warren, who bid for the Democratic nod in the district in 2008.
Fitzpatrick will face off with state Rep. Steven Santarsiero, who won the Democratic nod against publishing company owner Shaughnessy Naughton.
Santarsiero, who made renewable energy development a central issue in his bid, took 60 percent of the vote against Naughton’s 40 percent, with all of the districts reporting. Naughton likewise lost a bid for the 2014 Democratic nomination.
The presidential contest could play a significant role in the district, given that in the 2012 cycle, voters there split evenly, giving 49 percent each to both President Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
In the Reading-based 16th District, state Sen. Lloyd Smucker won the GOP nod to succeed retiring Rep. Joe Pitts (R).
Smucker took 54 percent of the vote against former Lancaster County GOP Chairman Chet Beiler, who received 46 percent, with all precincts reporting.
Republicans claim a significant advantage in the district, which Pitts has held for 20 years — in the 2012 presidential election, Romney took 52 percent of the vote, while Obama received 46 percent — and are expected to hold the seat in November.
Smucker will face off with nonprofit consultant Christina Hartman in the general election. Hartman was unopposed for the Democratic nomination.