Five Members of Congress Facing Primary Challenges in Pennsylvania

Tim Thomas of St. Augustine, Pennsylvania., rides his 1975 International farm tractor dressed with the U.S. and Confederate flags during this week’s Memorial Day parade in Ebensburg. (John Rucosky/Tribune-Democrat via AP)

PHILADELPHIA (CN) — The Covid-19 pandemic has brought big political changes to Pennsylvania, which has five members of Congress up for re-election.

With the number of in-person polling places cut way down throughout the state, the June 2 primary will be the first in state history in which voters can vote by mail without providing a reason.

Originally scheduled to be held April 28, the 2020 primary is also the first in which the state will provide voters and poll workers with cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment like surgical masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.

Pennsylvania has seen fewer volunteers sign up for poll-site duty, and most locations used in previous elections are unable to accommodate voters within social-distancing guidelines put in place to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Incumbent candidates are running for all five House seats, split 3-2 between Democrats and Republicans. As a state that has closed primaries, all will see challenges from members of their own parties at the polls in a few days.

In the 1st Congressional District, located in Southeast of Philadelphia, incumbent Republican Brian Fitzpatrick is polling ahead his more conservative-leaning challenger Andrew Meehan.

Meehan calls out Fitzpatrick on his campaign site for voting “again and again with Democrats” on issues including gun bans, the federal health care law, carbon taxes, “biological men in women’s sports,” and “publicly condemning President Trump as a ‘racist.’”

Fitzpatrick was first elected in 2016 and was one of a few local Republicans to hang on during the blue wave in the 2018 midterm elections. He classifies himself as “an independent voice for the people” and has not yet endorsed Trump’s re-election. 

In the fall, Fitzpatrick will go up against one of two Democrats: Ivyland Councilwoman Christina Finello or businessman Skylar Hurwitz

While Democratic voters slightly outnumber Republicans in the Bucks County-area district, they have struggled to hold political seats. Democrats only took control of the Bucks County government this past November for the first time since 1983.  

Finello has made health care reform central on her platform, stating she wants to lower the cost of insurance and prescription drugs and make it easier to get health care. Hurwitz, who identifies as a technology entrepreneur, is a champion for fair tax issues and says he wants to work to enforce big companies like Amazon and Walmart pay their fair share and reduce the financial burden placed on the lower and middle classes.

In the 7th Congressional District, incumbent Democrat Susan Wild is expected to easily win her primary election. Wild, a former city solicitor for Allentown, took the district’s open seat in 2018 after moderate Republican Charlie Dent retired.

In the Republican race, Dean Browning, a former Lehigh County commissioner who has been on ballots for years, is running against Lisa Scheller, a multimillionaire who runs a Schuylkill County manufacturing company and has financed a number of local Republican campaigns.

Both are Trump supporters, but the president has endorsed Scheller. “She strongly supports our Military, Vets, Small Businesses and the Second Amendment,” Trump tweeted last week, saying she “will fight for the incredible people of Pennsylvania in Congress!”

In the 8th Congressional District, six Republicans are running to unseat Democrat Matt Cartwright, who has served since 2013 and touts himself as a bipartisan lawmaker.

The six are former Trump appointee Jim Bognet; 24-year-old former Capitol Hill staffer Mike Cammisa; Luzerne Councilman Harry Haas; veterans Earl Garnville and Teddy Daniels; and 71-year-old former Hazleton Mayor Mike Marsicano.

In the 10th Congressional District, two Democrats are competing to run in the fall against Republican Scott Perry, who has served since 2013. Democrat Tom Brier is an attorney who has pledged to “never accept a dime of corporate money” and supports the Green New Deal and tax reform. Up against him is Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, whose big issues include expanding the Affordable Care Act and a $15 minimum wage.

In the 17th Congressional District, Democrat Connor Lamb, a lawyer and former Marine who represents the suburbs of Pittsburgh, does not face a significant challenger in the primary. His challenger in the fall will be Republican Sean Parnell, a former military captain and Trump supporter.

As state officials expect most votes to be cast by mail, it will likely take a few days to count all votes.

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