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Summer Lee wins Democratic primary in historic bid for Congress

State Rep. Summer Lee has won the Democratic nomination for U.S. House in Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District.
Rebecca Droke
State Rep. Summer Lee has won the Democratic nomination for U.S. House in Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District.

Summer Lee has won a five-way Democratic primary for a Pittsburgh-based U.S. House seat, making her the favorite in the heavily Democratic 12th Congressional district to win the fall general election and become the first Black woman elected to Congress from Pennsylvania.

Lee declared victory on Tuesday night, but Irwin did not concede, saying it was important to count every vote. Along with more than 1,900 provisional ballots cast across the county — not all of which were cast by Democrats in the 12th District — county officials said there were 31 voting machines for which county workers had not followed proper shutdown procedures. These included machines in which "memory sticks" were not submitted at the end of voting, or whose shutdown procedures had not been followed.

Once results from those machines were tallied on Thursday and Friday, however, Lee's election night advantage had expanded, from 446 to 740 votes. The Associated Press called the race Friday evening, and Irwin's campaign conceded a short time later.

"As more votes have been tallied over the last few days ... it is clear to me that the math is not on our side," said a statement from the campaign. It congratulated Lee on running "a formidable campaign, one that reflected her determination to make progress for people and give voice to to the voiceless."

"The people took on the corporations and the people won," Lee said in her own campaign statement. Revisiting an issue that became a defining theme of the race's final weeks, the statement blasted a "multimillion dollar smear campaign" waged by committees tied to AIPAC, a hawkish pro-Israel group that deluged local TV screens and mailboxes.

Lee, a second-term state House member, lawyer and former labor organizer, comes from the party's progressive wing. She was endorsed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the two-time presidential candidate and a leading voice in the Democratic Party’s left wing who came to campaign for Lee.

Irwin was endorsed by the Allegheny County Democratic Party and backed by prominent Democrats from the county.

The seat is open because longtime Rep. Mike Doyle — first elected in 1994 — is not running again. It also has new boundaries since Pennsylvania’s congressional districts were redrawn to account for a decade of demographic changes identified by the 2020 Census.

Lee will face the Republican nominee of the same name as the outgoing Democratic incumbent — Mike Doyle — in the fall general election.

Chris Potter contributed to this report.

This story was updated at 10:15 a.m. on May 21, 2022, to include additional statements from the candidates.

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