Pennsylvania primary provides window into voters’ minds in crucial swing state

Pennsylvanians will head to the polls on Tuesday to cast ballots in the state’s primary races, and the results will provide a window into where voters in the crucial battleground stand roughly six months out from the general election.

Both Joe Biden and Donald Trump have already locked up their parties’ nominations, but Pennsylvania voters will still have other options in the presidential primaries.

In the Republican primary, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley’s name will still appear on the Pennsylvania’s ballot. Although she withdrew from the presidential race last month, Haley has still won some support in the time since, a potentially worrisome sign for Trump’s general election prospects. In Wisconsin’s Republican primary earlier this month, Haley still won 13% of the vote, and a similar performance in another battleground state could serve as a warning shot for Trump.

Biden faces challenges of his own in Pennsylvania, which he won by roughly 80,000 votes, or 1.2 points, in 2020. A group of progressive activists has launched a campaign to encourage Democrats to write in “uncommitted” on Tuesday to protest Biden’s handling of the war in Gaza. The effort, based on the similar “Listen to Michigan” campaign earlier, hopes to get at least 40,000 Democrats to write in “uncommitted”, but it may take weeks to get those ballots counted.

Both Biden and Trump recently held events in Pennsylvania ahead of the primary, underscoring the state’s pivotal role in the general election. At a campaign stop last week in Scranton, where Biden was born, the president used the setting to contrast his vision for the country’s future with Trump’s.

“When I look at the economy, I don’t see it through the eyes of Mar-a-Lago, I see it through the eyes of Scranton,” Biden said, referring to Trump’s Florida resort home. “Scranton values or Mar-a-Lago values: these are the competing visions for our economy that raise fundamental questions of fairness at the heart of this campaign.”

Farther down the ballot, Pennsylvania voters will cast ballots in congressional primaries that will help determine control of the Senate and the House in November. In the Senate race, the incumbent Bob Casey is running unopposed in the Democratic primary, while Dave McCormick is the sole candidate in the Republican primary.

McCormick ran for Pennsylvania’s other Senate seat in 2022, but he lost the primary to celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, who was later defeated by the Democrat John Fetterman in the general election. The Pennsylvania Senate race will probably be one of the most expensive in the country, as Casey reported having nearly $12m in cash on hand earlier this month while McCormick’s campaign has more than $6m in the bank. The Cook Political Report rates the race as “lean Democrat”.

Several House races will provide additional clues about Pennsylvania voters’ leanings ahead of the general election. In the Pittsburgh-based 12th district, the progressive congresswoman and “squad” member Summer Lee faces a challenge from local council member Bhavini Patel, who has attacked the incumbent over her support for a ceasefire in Gaza. The Moderate Pac, a group that supports centrist Democrats and is largely funded by Republican megadonor Jeffrey Yass, has spent more than $600,000 supporting Patel, and the race will be closely scrutinized as an early test for progressives facing primary challenges this year.

In south-eastern Pennsylvania, the Republican congressman Brian Fitzpatrick has attracted a primary threat from anti-abortion activist Mark Houck, who has criticized the incumbent for being too centrist. But Houck’s chances of success appear slim, as Fitzpatrick has proven politically resilient in the first district. In 2022, Fitzpatrick won re-election by 10 points in a district that Biden carried by 4.6 points two years earlier, according to the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. Cook rates the first district as “likely Republican” in the general election.

Elsewhere in the state, three Republicans are running in the seventh district primary, vying for the chance to face off against Democratic incumbent Susan Wild. The Lehigh Valley district is considered a “toss-up” in the general election, per Cook’s ratings. A crowded field of six Democrats will also compete in the 10th district, based around the city of Harrisburg, for the opportunity to unseat Republican incumbent and former House freedom caucus chair Scott Perry. Cook rates Perry’s race as “lean Republican” in the general election.

Polls will close at 8pm ET in Pennsylvania, with results expected to start trickling in soon after that. They will give Americans a clearer sense of a state that could decide the presidential election and control of Congress in November.

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