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What to watch for in Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primaries

Pennsylvania primary voters will vote Tuesday in a series of crucial races in this key battleground state, even though the presidential and Senate primaries are mere formalities.

These include a hotly contested Democratic primary around Pittsburgh and a primary in eastern Pennsylvania that features a moderate Republican seeking to fend off a right-wing challenger.

Additionally, activists unhappy with President Joe Biden’s handling of the war between Israel and Hamas are urging Democrats to put “uncommitted” on the state’s primary ballot. And in the Republican primaries, Republicans looking to vote to protest former President Donald Trump may still find on their ballots former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who ended her campaign last month.

Pennsylvania is one of the most divided states in the country, so both parties will be looking for any clues the primaries might offer about the November election.

As polls close at 8 p.m. ET, here’s what to watch for Tuesday.

A House district where the war in Gaza is at the forefront

In the 12th Congressional District, Democratic Rep. Summer Lee faces a challenge from Edgewood Borough Council member Bhavini Patel in a race that has brought the war between Israel and Hamas to the forefront .

Lee, a member of the progressive congressional “squad” and one of the first lawmakers to call for a ceasefire, accused the Israeli government of committing “war crimes” and called for an end to the ceasefire. unconditional military aid to the country. and on Saturday, she joined 36 Democrats and 21 Republicans to vote against an aid plan for the country, which passed overwhelmingly. She and Republican Rep. Scott Perry were the only Pennsylvania members to vote against it.

Patel, who launched his campaign days before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, sought to reduce Lee’s support by saying his refusal to distance himself from groups and activists calling for a “no-commitment” primary vote would harm to Biden this fall.

Lee, who won her first primary race in 2022 after overcoming a string of spending by groups aligned with the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee, appears stronger this time around. She is well defined in the district and framed her candidacy around fighting Trump-aligned Republicans and bringing federal dollars to the district. The same AIPAC-aligned groups that fought her last time aren’t spending on the race this time around.

The neighborhood includes Squirrel Hill, one of the most historically Jewish neighborhoods in the country and the site of the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre, where a white supremacist killed 11 worshipers in 2018. It was the largest anti-Semitic attack deadliest in American history.

Lee has called on Hamas to release the hostages it still holds and has repeatedly spoken out against anti-Semitism.

“We have communities that are suffering. The Jewish community is one of them. And there are people who are not going to agree 100 percent with everything you say,” Lee said in an interview, adding that she had been “very clear and very frank” about her cease-fire position. fire. “I condemned Hamas. We worked with the families of the hostages; we did everything I thought was necessary to achieve this. And in the end, we disagree.

The race will be an early test of whether sentiment over the war in Gaza will play a significant role in this year’s races.

Running a crucial Senate race

Democratic Sen. Bob Casey and his Republican challenger Dave McCormick are poised for victory Tuesday, setting up a key contest in the fight for control of the Senate.

McCormick, who lost the 2022 GOP primary to Trump-backed celebrity physician Mehmet Oz, managed to clear the field ahead of that bid and rallied behind him a Pennsylvania Republican establishment that was tired of the infighting that contributed to defeats up and down the ballot. mid Road. It’s a dynamic that allowed him to focus on the general election battle against Casey from the start.

The two men will soon face off in what will be one of the most expensive Senate races of the cycle. Casey, a three-term senator whose father was governor of Pennsylvania, is steadily ahead of Biden in the polls in the state, where Democrats have enjoyed victory after victory since Trump’s stunning upset of Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The race could determine which party has the majority in the Senate, where Democrats hold a 51-49 advantage.

A moderate Republican on defense

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick has built a reputation as a moderate Republican, so he has often attracted primary challengers from the right. This year, Fitzpatrick is taking no chances in his primary race against anti-abortion activist Mark Houck.

Fitzpatrick’s campaign has spent nearly $2 million so far, according to recent campaign finance reports, far outpacing Houck, who lost $145,000 and was left with just $11,000 in his account as of April 3. Fitzpatrick’s campaign had nearly $3.7 million on hand.

Houck made headlines for his arrest after an altercation with a Planned Parenthood volunteer, and he was acquitted last year. Fitzpatrick’s campaign launched several negative television ads against Houck, as well as spots reinforcing his own conservative credentials. In one ad, Fitzpatrick says: “The far left is attacking the very ideals that have drawn so many to our shores, indoctrinating our children with anti-American hatred and leaving our borders wide open. »

The primary race has drawn attention from outside groups, with two super PACs spending in the race to support Fitzpatrick: the Defending America PAC and the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is aligned with House GOP leadership. A group linked to Democrats also interfered in the primaries, Politico reported.

Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent, is an elusive target for Democrats seeking to flip the competitive 1st District in suburban Philadelphia. If he wins the primary, Fitzpatrick will again face Democrat Ashley Ehasz, an Army veteran whom he beat by 10 points in 2022, even after Biden won the district by 5 points two years ago, according to the Daily Kos Elections calculations. The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter considers the 1st District race likely Republican.

Setting up house confrontations on the battlefield

Tuesday’s primaries will also solidify matchups in four other competitive House districts. Two of them are already set, with businessman Rob Bresnahan the only Republican vying to take on Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright in the 8th District and state Rep. Rob Mercuri the only Republican vying to take on the Democratic Rep. Chris Deluzio in the 17th District.

But there are competitive primaries to face two other Pennsylvania lawmakers in battleground districts: Democratic Rep. Susan Wild and Republican Rep. Scott Perry.

In Wild’s 7th District, north of Philadelphia, top Republicans include state Rep. Ryan Mackenzie and Kevin Dellicker, a tech company owner. Mackenzie enjoys support from Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity Action, while Dellicker slightly outperformed Mackenzie in the primary.

Wild won a third term in 2022 by just 2 points, and Biden won his district by less than 1 point in 2020. The Cook Political Report considers the race a toss-up.

In the 10th District, which includes Harrisburg, six Democrats are competing to take on Perry, the former chairman of the far-right House Freedom Caucus. Leading contenders include Marine veteran Mike O’Brien, who was a TOPGUN pilot, and former local TV anchor Janelle Stelson, who has the backing of EMILY’s List, a group that supports female candidates who support the right to abortion.

While Democrats believe Perry is vulnerable, especially given his clashes with the Justice Department’s investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, Democrats would face an uphill climb in a district which Trump won by 4 points in 2020. The Cook Political Report rates the race as lean Republican.

Protest vote against Biden

Biden is his party’s presumptive presidential nominee, but activists opposed to the war in Gaza are once again calling on Democrats to vote to protest the administration’s support for Israel.

A coalition of groups called “PA Uncommitted” is urging voters to write “uncommitted” in the Democratic presidential primary, following similar efforts in other primary states. The group is seeking 40,000 write-in votes, about half of Biden’s margin of victory in Pennsylvania in 2020. Only registered Democrats can participate in Tuesday’s primary.

CORRECTION (April 23, 2024, 1:30 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the First of all name of the primary Republican challenger to Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick. He It’s Mark Houck, not Matt.

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