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Local Progressive Women Ahead In Primary Election, But Vote Still Being Counted

Matt Rourke
Jenn McCullough, wearing a protective face mask as a precaution against the coronavirus, steps from the voting booth after casting her ballot in the Pennsylvania primary at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, Tuesday, June 2, 2020.

Allegheny County elections officials spent Tuesday night and the early hours of Wednesday morning churning through hundreds of thousands of ballots for the primary election. Election officials called it a night around 2:30 a.m., having tallied more than 263,000 ballots, with more to go.

Local officials will return to counting ballots Wednesday at noon. Even that, though, won't be the end, as election results won't be finalized until next week. On Monday, Governor Tom Wolf issued an executive order that will allow an extra week for mail-in ballots to be delivered in Allegheny County and five other counties, provided they are postmarked by June 2.

Politicos say it can be difficult to gauge outcomes even though the county had posted results from roughly a quarter-million ballots last night. It's not clear, for example, that the voters who came to the polls Tuesday will vote the same way as those who sent their ballots by mail — though there was little sign of a disparity in the early returns Tuesday night. 

But the tea leaves on Election Night were promising for female candidates with progressive views: State Rep. Summer Lee, a standard-bearer for the movement, appeared well on the way to crushing rival Chris Roland. And three other female candidates, all of whom were snubbed by party insiders earlier this year, also seemed well positioned to win. 

"The establishment has been discounting progressives and women for far too long," said Emily Kinkead, whose challenge to incumbent state Rep. Adam Ravenstahl was in good shape Tuesday night. "They're being forced to practice what they preach about being a truly big-tent party."

Here's a rundown of some of the top local races:

18th Congressional District, Democratic primary: Mike Doyle (incumbent) vs. Jerry Dickinson

Congressman Mike Doyle appears to have cruised to victory in Tuesday’s primary, with twice the vote of Democratic challenger Jerry Dickinson in the 18th congressional district, which includes Pittsburgh and nearby communities. Doyle says there's lots of work to do in Washington.

“We need voices in our leadership and the Congress that are looking for ways to unite Americans of all colors,” he said Tuesday evening. “These are the times where we can show what we’re really made as Americans.”

Dickinson hit Doyle hard on racial issues in the campaign, and he did not concede Tuesday. Instead, he says he'll wait until every ballot is counted to gauge the outcome.

State Senate District 37, Republican primary: Jeff Neff vs. Devlin Robinson

Veteran Devlin Robinson appeared to be easily outpacing Sewickley Towship Councilor Jeff Neff in a race to challenge Democrat Pam Iovino this fall. Both men had sought to challenge Iovino in a special-election last year, but the GOP nod went to the party’s Allegheny County chair, D. Raja, instead.

Robinson had the backing of much of the party’s grassroots in that intraparty fight, and much of GOP establishment lined up behind him this time: Insiders said his record as a veteran would help him against Iovino, herself a former Navy officer. They race drew little attention beyond a controversy over Neff’s appearance at a reopen rally attended by right-wing groups.

State Senate District 43, Democratic primary: State Sen. Jay Costa (incubment) vs. Bill Brittain

Brittain had been hoping to capture some of the momentum that toppled other longstanding Democrats, including two members of the Costa family who lost in races back in 2018. But Costa, who leads Democrats in the state Senate, was on track for a victory by margins of three-to-one on election night. 
State House District 19, Democratic primary: Jake Wheatley (incumbent) vs. Aerion Abney

Jake Wheatley appeared well positioned to fend off a challenge from Abney in a Pittsburgh-based district that ranges from the North Side through Downtown and into the Hill District, as well as some southern “hilltop” neighborhoods. The race was a rematch from 2018, when Wheatley failed to win an outright majority against Abney in 2018, but still bested him by a 48-to-42 percent margin with help from a third candidate, Ebony Taylor. Abney had hoped a one-on-one contest would have a better outcome this year. 

State House Disrict 20, Democratic primary: Adam Ravensthal (incumbent) vs. Emily Kinkead

Although Allegheny County votes will be trickling in for several days, election night results make attorney Emily Kinkead a favorite to topple five-term incumbent Adam Ravenstahl in the 20th state House district. Kinkead says the results — and strong performance by other like-minded women last night — show change is coming. Kinkead actually outraised Ravenstahl, thanks to a combination of family support and backing from the SEIU, a union of service workers. 

The 20th district includes Lawrenceville, the North Side, and suburbs northwest of Pittsburgh.

State House District 28, Republican primary: Libby Blackburn vs. Mike Heckmann vs. Rob Mercuri

Republicans in the 28th House District voted for a nominee to replace House Speaker Mike Turzai next year. And while there are still votes to be counted, Rob Mercuri has a sizable lead in the North Hills race. Turzai backed Mercuri over Republicans Libby Blackburn and Mike Heckman.

Mercuri says that support made a huge difference: “My candidacy stands on its own but his endorsement and support were very meaningful for a lot of voters who trust Speaker Turzai’s judgement.”

Mercuri is an Army veteran and bank executive. He will likely face Democrat Emily Skopov in November.

State House District 30, Democratic primary: Marco Attisano vs. Lissa Geiger Shulman

Geiger Shulman, an education advocate from Hampton, appeared to have a slim lead over O'Hara Township attorney Attisano throughout the evening in this northern suburban district. But the race was too close to call by the time county election workers went home for the night. The winner will likely face Republican incumbent Lori Mizgorski, who won the seat in 2018 after the retirement of longtime state Rep. Hal English. 

State House District 34, Democratic primary: Summer Lee (incumbent) vs. Chris Roland

State House representative Summer Lee seems to have brushed aside a challenge from North Braddock councilman Chris Roland Tuesday. Lee has been a firebrand on issues of racial and environmental justice. She says those are key concerns in a district that includes struggling communities along the Mon Valley.

“I've been a really visible, really on the ground representative,” Lee said. “I've been in these communities, I’ve legislated around issues that are really important to people, and I think we've been really responsive and really on the streets."

Roland was backed by unions that work in the fracking industry, but Lee had support from progressives like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

State House District 36, Democratic primary: Jessica Benham vs. Mark Johnson vs. Heather Kass vs. Ed Moeller

Much of the attenion in this four-way race to replace retiring state Rep. Harry Readshaw focused on Heather Kass. The Carrick resident had both Readshaw's backing and that of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, but she drew fire for social-media posts that castigated people with drug addictions, and the state party refused to support her. Kass sued her own party in the ensuing dispute. 

But on election night itself, Kass was running a distant third behind Jessica Benham, a more progressives candidate from the South Side Slopes who runs an advocacy group for people with autism, and Ed Moeller, an accountant who'd held office in Baldwin Borough. Tallies consistently showed Benham leading throughout the night, though with votes still to be counted. 

State House District 39, Republican primary: Mike Puskaric (incumbent) vs. Tom Kirsch

Puskaric is a first-term incumbent who won this Mon Valley seat, formerly held by conservative Rick Saccone, in 2018. Saccone opposed Puskaric that year and this year backed Kirsch, a Bethel Park businessman who nearly ran in 2018, this year. Kirsch appeared to be leading Puskaric throughout the evening. The winner of the GOP primary will  likely face Democrat Sara-Summer Oliphant, who ran unopposed, in the fall. 

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.
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