Pennsylvania primaries test new congressional maps


Eric Amundson

Sarah Innamorato won against incumbent Democrat Dom Costa in the race for Pennsylvania’s 21st District’s State Rep. (Photo by Anne Amundson | For The Pitt News)

At Hitchhiker Brewing — a small brewery in Sharpsburg — thunderous applause greeted Sara Innamorato as she entered the building Tuesday night. Hugging and shaking hands with anyone she passed, she was as excited to see each of them as they were to see her.

Innamorato beat incumbent Dom Costa in the Democratic primary for the state representative seat in Pennsylvania’s 21st district Tuesday night, becoming the first person to beat Costa in an election since 2009. For Pennsylvania, this election marked the State’s first use of its new congressional district maps. Noah Levinson, Innamorato’s campaign manager, noted how this journey has been unlike anything he’s done before.

“The idea or notion after the 2016 election was that it was up to us. Both Sara and I left our previous lives, and this campaign turned from an idea into this,” Levinson said, motioning toward the crowd of supporters.

Larger elections included a Republican primary to decide who will run against incumbent Democrat Tom Wolf in the gubernatorial race in November. Scott Wagner, a state senator from York County, received 44.3 percent of the vote to beat his two Republican competitors — Paul Mango, a former health care systems consultant, and Laura Ellsworth, a commercial litigation attorney.

Dorothy Petrancosta, a 55-year-old resident of Shaler, was a Mango supporter even though they didn’t agree on all the issues.

“I would say I’m a civil libertarian,” Petrancosta said. “But Mango loves people, and I was very impressed with his record and what his employees said about him. I believe two of them even quit their jobs to work for his campaign. So, I’m very OK with the differences we have.”

There was another statewide Republican primary to decide who will run against incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Casey in November. The race pitted State Rep. Jim Christiana against U.S. congressman Lou Barletta, with Barletta coming out on top with 61.1 percent of the vote.

Federal and state representative seats were up for grabs across the state, including seats for districts that cover Oakland and its surrounding areas.

Pennsylvania’s 14th Congressional District was of particular interest as it is made up of most of what was the 18th Congressional District — including Washington and Westmoreland counties, which border Allegheny County to the south — before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted a new congressional map in February.

Conor Lamb, a Democrat, beat Republican Rick Saccone in a special election in March to take control of the 18th seat until November, when most of the district will become the 14th District.

Guy Reschenthaler, a state senator who previously lost the Republican party’s bid to fill Tim Murphy’s seat to Saccone last fall, beat Saccone in Tuesday’s primary with 55.4 percent of the vote. The four-person Democratic primary was won by Bibiana Boerio with 43 percent of the vote.

State general assembly races were held in the 19th, 21st and 23rd districts, each of which surrounds or partially encompasses Oakland. The 23rd District went to incumbent Dan Frankel, who ran unopposed, but the other two races around Oakland featured competitive Democratic races.

Democratic incumbent Jake Wheatley won the 19th District primary, beating competitors Aerion Abney and Ebony Taylor. The district covers several neighborhoods in Pittsburgh including North, South and West Oakland. Wheatley won the primary convincingly, winning 48.11 percent of the vote.

The biggest change of the night came between Innamorato’s victory in the 21st District and Summer Lee’s victory in the 34th District. Lee beat Paul Costa, Dom Costa’s cousin who has served the district since 1999. Innamorato, a co-founder of She Runs SWPA, a group dedicated to electing women to office, won 64.14 percent of the vote.

Innamorato’s campaign gained momentum over the last few months, receiving endorsements from the Democratic Socialists of America and Planned Parenthood among other organizations. Lee also received an endorsement from DSA, marking two major races in Pennsylvania in which DSA-backed candidates were able to win seats.

Dan McClain, 39, serves as the Vice-Chair of the Ross Democratic Committee. He felt that that he and the Ross committee, which endorsed Costa, wanted Costa to win because he felt that Costa represented the party well and worked hard for his constituents, despite criticism from some Democrats for his voting record.

“If you vote with the party leadership 80 percent of the time and you work hard for your community, I’ll back you every time,” McClain said.

When asked about his thoughts on Innamorato, McClain said she has not earned his vote.

“She graduated from North Hills High School, but I haven’t seen her around the community since then,” McClain said.

Celina Lopez, 30, moved from Austin, TX to Troy Hill to be the field director for Innamorato’s campaign. When a friend of hers talked about a progressive women who was running in Pennsylvania, she applied and got the job.

“It was my first time running an entirely volunteer project,” Lopez said. “It was truly a grassroots campaign. Everyone volunteered their time and helped because they believe Sara is a great leader.”

Innamorato, standing atop a chair in the brewery around 9:30 p.m., with a majority of precincts reporting, gave a rousing speech to her supporters.

“We accomplished the impossible,” Innamorato said. “They said we couldn’t go up against things like corruption in Harrisburg. And you know what we did instead, we built something.”

She commented on the individual fundraising totaling around $100,000, and she acknowledged those who volunteered in the room. More than 500 people volunteered their time by knocking on doors in the district’s neighborhoods, including Aspinwall, Etna, Millvale, Reserve Township, Sharpsburg and parts of Ross Township, Shaler Township and Pittsburgh, including Oakland.

“In a time when politics is divisive, it was a beautiful day. You all are part of this campaign forever,” Innamorato said.