Primary in Pennsylvania is here: A 2024 election guide from ballot issues to House races

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have essentially clinched their party’s 2024 nominations for the White House. But Pennsylvania voters on Tuesday will cast their ballots in a slew of contentious and potentially decisive congressional and state races that are still sure to make waves as the campaign chugs toward November.

The primary results in this pivotal swing state are certain to reveal insights about the major issues shaping the general election, namely on abortion and the Israel-Hamas war.

All 17 members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation are running for re-election in 2024 and three of those incumbents are facing serious primary challengers. Several others are also watching to see who their opponent will be in the fall. And, in some cases, the outcome of Tuesday’s races could determine which way those seats swing on Election Day.

While it's a far-flung possibility, which party has a majority in Pennsylvania's congressional delegation also could have major implications on the presidential race. If the 2024 White House election is contested or tied, each state’s congressional delegation will have a single vote in deciding the winner. Currently, Democrats have a 9-8 advantage — meaning one general election race in November could make all the difference.

With the sun not quite over the horizon, polls have opened in Mississippi, and ballots are being cast in the Democratic and Republican primary election. Voting started off quietly at the Canton National Guard Armory as Dana Gordon of Canton, Miss., fills out his ballot as the first voter of the day on Tuesday, March 12, 3024. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

At the state level, Democrats are hoping to hold on to their majority in the state House and take control of the state Senate. Republicans currently hold a 28-22 majority in the Senate, and Democrats are hoping to flip at least three seats to make it 25-25, giving them the majority via a tie-breaking vote from Democratic Lieutenant Gov. Austin Davis.

Five Democrats and two Republicans are also battling for the open state attorney general position, once held by Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro. Michelle Henry, who is completing the remainder of Shapiro’s term since he was elected governor in 2022, is not running for the position.

Candidates across these races are running on some of the biggest issues facing the country — from abortion to the war in Gaza to election integrity. And the candidates whom Democratic and Republican voters pick on Tuesday could give larger insights about their views on topics that appear central to this fall's general election.

Here's a look at what to expect in Tuesday's primary.

Abortion at play in Pennsylvania races

Abortion has roiled down-ballot races across the country, and Pennsylvania is no exception. Reproductive rights have been a major topic in the attorney general’s race and in the Republican primary for the 1st Congressional District.

All five Democratic candidates for attorney general have committed to protecting the right to abortion and access to FDA-approved medications such as mifepristone. Meanwhile, the Republican candidates have said that they do not believe the state constitution guarantees the right to an abortion. As attorney general, both would leave the issue for the state legislature to decide.

In Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District, longtime Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is being challenged on his right flank by a candidate who believes abortions should be banned in nearly all circumstances — including in cases of rape and incest.

Mark Houck, Fitzpatrick’s opponent, was acquitted of criminal charges stemming from an altercation at an abortion clinic.  The incident reportedly inspired him to run for public office. A devout Catholic, Houck co-founded the men's religious group The King's Men. He's worked as an author, motivational speaker and human resources manager.

Fitzpatrick is a moderate Republican. He is one of a handful of Republican representatives serving in districts that Biden won in 2020.

The primary race could demonstrate just how important the issue of abortion is for the Republican Party’s base.

Pennsylvania Democrats clash on Israel-Hamas war

In Pennsylvania’s 12th District, which includes Pittsburgh and some of its suburbs, first-term progressive Rep. Summer Lee, is facing a primary challenge over her opposition to the Israel-Hamas war. Bhavini Patel, a more moderate Democratic congressional candidate has tried to closely align herself with President Joe Biden.

Lee, who is affiliated with the “squad,” was among the early advocates in Congress calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. She has been an outspoken opponent of providing U.S. military aid to Israel.

U.S. Rep. Summer Lee (D-PA) (2nd R) speaks as Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and other participants listen during a news conference on the Green New Deal in front of the U.S. Capitol on April 20, 2023, in Washington, DC. The lawmakers held a news conference to reintroduce the "Green New Deal Resolution," which was first introduced on April 20, 2021, as a non-binding resolution titled, "Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal."

Patel is a 29-year-old municipal council member who also describes herself as a progressive. She has framed the incumbent's criticism of Israel as detrimental to Biden’s re-election efforts and unrepresentative of a district that is home to a large Jewish community.

The election on Tuesday could reveal just how salient the issue of the war is for Democratic voters — particularly in swing areas of the country. It may also forecast how other progressives facing similar challenges from moderate Democrats could fair in their races.

What are the key Pennsylvania House races to watch?

There are several other high-profile House primary races to watch in Pennsylvania.

Six Democrats are competing for the chance to challenge GOP Rep. Scott Perry in Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District, which includes Harrisburg and Hershey.

Perry was a former chair of the Freedom Caucus, one of the most conservative factions of the Republican Party, with members including Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Perry was also a key figure in efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

While the area leans Republican, Democrats say they can win over independents and moderate conservatives in the area with a message centered around protecting democracy. They plan to tie Perry to Trump and conservative extremism.

House Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., speaking from the podium during a press conference hosted by Senator Rick Scott and Senators Mike Braun, Mike Lee, Ron Johnson and Roger Marshall, along with members of the House Freedom Caucus highlighting the need to demand and secure fiscal sanity and border security in the upcoming supplemental and forthcoming appropriations bills.

Out of the six Democratic candidates running to unseat Perry, news anchor Janelle Stelson and former "Top Gun" fighter pilot Mike O’Brien appear to have the best shot. The other candidates include Harrisburg City Council member Shamaine Daniels, progressive businessman John Broadhurst and former radio executive Black Lynch.

To the northeast of Harrisburg, in the Lehigh Valley, three Republicans are competing to take on Democratic Rep. Susan Wild. Her seat, in Pennsylvania’s 7th District, is a top target for Republicans in November.

Wild barely eked out a victory against her Republican opponent, Lisa Scheller, in 2022. She won 51-49.

Pennsylvania’s state legislature hangs in the balance

If Pennsylvania Democrats hold their narrow majority in the state House and win the state Senate in November, it would give Gov. Shapiro enormous power to pass his agenda in the last two years of his term.

It would also mark the first time in three decades that the party controlled the state Senate; Tuesday’s elections could determine whether that’s possible.

"I voted" stickers sit ready for voters to take after casting their ballot in the primary election at Precint C1 in the Olde Town Depot Building in Clinton, Miss., Tuesday, March 12, 2024.
"I voted" stickers sit ready for voters to take after casting their ballot in the primary election at Precint C1 in the Olde Town Depot Building in Clinton, Miss., Tuesday, March 12, 2024.

Because the local districts tend to lean Democratic or Republican, the results of the primary elections can have a large sway on the race.

Democrats currently hold a two-seat majority in the state House, and Republicans hold a five-seat majority in the state Senate.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pennsylvania primary guide: What's on the 2024 ballot?