Four states held primary elections Tuesday, but one loomed the largest by far: Pennsylvania. In a state that has emerged as one of the most important battlegrounds of 2018, Democrats settled a cluster of chaotic nomination fights — and Republicans, despite being on the defensive, sent a signal of strong support for President Donald Trump.
<strong>Democrats Keep Rallying Around Women</strong>
Democrats nominated an eclectic group of candidates, including liberals and moderates, military veterans and lawyers, political newcomers and seasoned politicians. But most of their nominees in important races have one thing in common: They are women.
In four congressional districts ringing Philadelphia, Democrats selected female nominees: Madeleine Dean, Chrissy Houlahan, Mary Gay Scanlon and Susan Wild. At least two of them — Dean and Houlahan — are overwhelmingly likely to win the general election under Pennsylvania’s new congressional map, which had its first test Tuesday night. That would represent a breakthrough in Pennsylvania, which has sent only men to Congress since 2015.
And Democratic women triumphed beyond Pennsylvania: In an Omaha, Nebraska-based congressional district, Kara Eastland, a liberal insurgent, won the Democratic nomination in an upset against former Rep. Brad Ashford. And in the race for governor of Idaho, Paulette Jordan, a state legislator who would be the country’s first Native American governor, defeated a wealthy businessman in the Democratic primary.
In the lone key Pennsylvania primary where a Democratic woman fell short, it was against a man strongly backed by party leaders. In the district held by Republican Brian Fitzpatrick, Scott Wallace, a wealthy investor, defeated a female primary opponent, Rachel Reddick, after national Democrats lobbied for him to join the race.
<strong>A Very Trump-like Republican Ticket</strong>
Republicans in Pennsylvania appear to have taken a lesson from Trump's victory there in 2016, choosing candidates for governor and Senate who have followed Trump as a political model. In the Senate race, Republicans nominated Rep. Lou Barletta, an immigration hard-liner whom the president endorsed; for governor, they selected Scott Wagner, a combative businessman-turned-state legislator.
Trump congratulated Barletta on Wednesday morning.
“He will be a great Senator and will represent his people well - like they haven’t been represented in many years,” Trump wrote in his first Twitter post of the day.
If those nominations underline Trump's control of his party, they may also present political challenges for Republicans in Pennsylvania, a purple state where Democratic-leaning cities are brimming with political energy and once-Republican suburbs have rebelled against the White House.
The Democratic incumbents, Gov. Tom Wolf and Sen. Bob Casey, will be tough to beat, but some Republicans fear a divisive statewide ticket could also harm candidates running down ballot, for Congress and the state Legislature.
<strong>— The House May Hinge on Southeast Pennsylvania</strong>
Strategists in both parties see the suburbs around Philadelphia as an important front in the battle for control of Congress, with more than half a dozen Republican-held seats in Pennsylvania and across the border in New Jersey up for grabs. A sweep or near-sweep by Democrats in this area could be fatal to Republicans nationally.
The primaries Tuesday only raised the stakes there: Pennsylvania Democrats got the candidates they wanted and avoided a potentially destructive mess in the 7th District, where John Morganelli, a Trump-praising immigration hawk, nearly seized the Democratic nomination. (He lost to Wild.) And in the 8th, a rare district where Republicans are playing offense, Republican primary voters picked John Chrin, the favored candidate of national party strategists, to take on Rep. Matt Cartwright, a Democrat, in the state’s northeast corner.