Progressive ‘squad’ member Summer Lee will win Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, CNN projects

Rep. Summer Lee will win an expensive race for the Democratic nomination in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, CNN projects, defeating challenger Bhavini Patel, who hammered the progressive freshman over her response to Israel’s war in Gaza.

After condemning Hamas’ deadly October 7 raid, Lee emerged as one of the few early voices calling for a ceasefire, which fueled attacks from pro-Israel groups and Patel, who accused her of ignoring the district’s Jewish community and undermining President Joe Biden’s policy in the region.

But Lee, who faced a heavier barrage of outside spending when she first ran for the seat in 2022, stressed her record of delivering federal funds to the Pittsburgh-area district, her abortion rights advocacy and GOP billionaire Jeffrey Yass’s funding of a super PAC that spent more than $570,000 against her.

“Our victory is a rejection of right-wing interests and Republican billionaires using corporate Super PACs to target Black and brown Democrats in our primaries — be it AIPAC or Moderate PAC or any other MAGA billionaire in Democratic clothing,” Lee said in a statement. “Western PA is the blueprint for the future all of America deserves.”

A member of the House “squad” of progressive lawmakers, Lee was initially believed to be a top target for pro-Israel groups such as United Democracy Project, the super PAC arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Democratic Majority for Israel – both of which spent big against her two years ago. But the congresswoman’s popularity in the district and the lack of name recognition for Patel, an Edgewood Borough council member, mostly kept them off the airwaves. The Yass-backed Moderate PAC tried to make up the difference, but its ad spending was nearly canceled out by outlays from a coalition of progressive groups, led by the Working Families Party, Justice Democrats and Emgage PAC.

Lee’s victory, and her mostly comfortably road to renomination in a safely blue seat, is a major boost to progressive Democrats, who are bracing for a flood of outside spending by pro-Israel and establishment-backed groups determined to claw back the gains made by the hard-charging, diverse new crop of young leftists elected to Congress over the past six years.

The absence of a major investment from the pro-Israel organizations, which spent more than $3 million trying to deny Lee the nomination in 2022, made for a more balanced competition this time. Lee’s campaign also outspent Patel’s by a more than 4-to-1 margin, according to data from AdImpact. It was a mark of Lee’s strong standing among progressives – led by Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey and Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato, two close allies – and Patel’s inability, in the end, to excite even moderates who opposed the incumbent.

Lee also came under fire from Patel over her support for the “uncommitted” write-in campaign among Democrats looking to warn Biden that his continued backing of the Israeli military campaign in Gaza could cost him general election votes. But the attacks mostly fell flat, in part because Biden gave Lee an approving shout-out during a recent campaign event in Pittsburgh. Progressives also argued that Lee voters would be crucial to juicing Democratic turnout in November in the battleground state.

“President Biden needs to win Summer Lee voters. He needs to win progressives,” Justice Democrats spokesperson Usamah Andrabi told CNN before the primary. “And Western Pennsylvania is a progressive stronghold now.”

Lee’s campaign hammered Patel over Yass’ involvement in the race, even though Patel repeatedly denounced the GOP megadonor. One pro-Israel strategist told CNN that Yass’ involvement had been a factor in the strategist’s group staying on the sidelines.

“To go in as a well-known, right-wing Republican billionaire with a personal PAC and try and affect this race, frankly, taints everybody who might be interested in helping Patel and defeating Summer Lee,” the pro-Israel strategist said.

Asked why he thought the pro-Israel groups were not joining his cause, Ty Strong, the president of Moderate PAC, said Patel’s lack of name recognition and internal polling numbers “scared a lot of people away,” particularly those who “did not want to give (Lee) another feather in the cap.”

“If someone had more name recognition or was a staffer in the White House or had a little bit more of a history in the Democratic Party, if there was a picture of Patel standing next to Joe Biden, I think she would’ve gotten a lot farther,” Strong said of the challenger, adding that the PAC was still able to “move the needle” by criticizing Lee’s record and offering an alternative.

Lee and her supporters, though, pleased to have warded off a similar onslaught to 2022, insisted that even the specter of AIPAC’s involvement could throw off the fundamentals of a campaign.

“Whether or not AIPAC or someone like them gets in your race, it’s destabilizing,” Lee said. “It makes candidates think differently about how they’re going to run and who they’re serving, whose values they’re going to represent.”

Patel was especially pointed in her criticism of what she described as Lee’s absenteeism among her Jewish constituents after the October 7 attacks in Israel.

“You know what I would be doing after October 7? I would’ve come straight back home; I would’ve been present in my community,” Patel said. “There were rallies and visuals that were organized here at home. She was nowhere to be found.”

Lee called that charge an “intentional mischaracterization” of her work.

“There’s a difference between campaigning and being actually present. And the reality is that she’s campaigning right now,” Lee said of Patel. “The assertion that we weren’t present or that we did not do our due diligence to earnestly represent them is a mischaracterization. And she knows that we’ve done that.”

Other races

Biden and former President Donald Trump will easily win their respective presidential primaries in Pennsylvania, CNN projects – a largely anticlimactic outcome with both having already secured enough delegates last month to clinch their party nominations.

Polls have shown a close general election race in battleground Pennsylvania, which has been a key part of Democrats’ so-called blue wall of must-win Great Lakes states in recent elections. In 2016, Trump became the first Republican in nearly three decades to win Pennsylvania, before Biden flipped the state four years later.

The state’s US Senate race is among several fall contests seen as critical to determining control of the chamber next year. The general election matchup between Democratic incumbent Bob Casey and Republican challenger Dave McCormick was already set before Tuesday, with neither facing any opposition in their primaries.

Casey, who is seeking a fourth term, has held an edge in public polling thus far. McCormick, a former hedge fund executive, unsuccessfully sought the state’s other Senate seat last cycle, narrowly losing the Republican nomination to Mehmet Oz after a recount. He recently earned the support of Trump, who, as CNN previously reported, had up to that point been reluctant to weigh in on the race.

On the House side, Lee was not the only Pennsylvania Democrat facing a primary Tuesday night.

In the 3rd District in Philadelphia, Rep. Dwight Evans will easily win the Democratic nomination for a fifth full term, CNN projects, defeating Tracey Gordon, a former city register of wills. No Republican has filed for the deep-blue seat.

With the GOP’s narrow House majority on the line this fall, five races in Pennsylvania are expected to be competitive – three seats held by Democrats and two by Republicans.

In the 1st District, Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick will comfortably overcome a challenge from his right, CNN projects, to set up a rematch of his 2022 race with Army veteran Ashley Ehasz, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary. Democrats have long targeted Fitzpatrick, who represents a suburban Philadelphia seat that Biden would have carried by 5 points under its current lines. But the moderate Fitzpatrick has consistently beat back challengers since his first election in 2016, including a 10-point win over Ehasz two years ago.

In the 10th District in South Central Pennsylvania, former TV news anchor Janelle Stelson will win the Democratic primary to take on Republican Rep. Scott Perry, CNN projects. Perry is a former chairman of the House Freedom Caucus who has drawn scrutiny for his role in seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Trump would have carried the district by 4 points in 2020.

Republicans are targeting three House Democratic lawmakers in Pennsylvania this year – Susan Wild in the 7th District in the Lehigh Valley, Matt Cartwright in the 8th District in Northeastern Pennsylvania and Chris Deluzio in the 17th District in suburban Pittsburgh. All three are in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Frontline program for vulnerable incumbents.

The general election matchups in the 8th and 17th Districts are set with no contested primaries in either race. Cartwright, who is one of five House Democrats to hold a seat that Trump would have carried in 2020, will face Republican businessman Rob Bresnahan in November. Deluzio, a freshman lawmaker, will face off against GOP state Rep. Rob Mercuri.

In the 7th District, Republican state Rep. Ryan Mackenzie will win a contested primary to take on Wild, CNN projects. First elected in 2018, Wild represents a competitive seat that Biden would have carried by less than a point four years ago.

A handful of statewide executive offices are on the ballot this year in Pennsylvania, including attorney general, an office that has traditionally been seen as a stepping stone to the governorship.

Democrat Eugene DePasquale and Republican Dave Sunday will advance to the general election for state attorney general, CNN projects, in the race to succeed appointed Democratic incumbent Michelle Henry. Henry opted against seeking a full term after Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro picked her to succeed him as attorney general following his gubernatorial victory in 2022.

CNN’s Michelle Shen, Jack Forrest, Kaanita Iyer, Piper Hudspeth Blackburn, Shania Shelton, David Wright, Simone Pathe and Terence Burlij contributed to this report.

This story has been updated with additional results.

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