(This article first appeared in RealClear Pennsylvania)
By Chris Nicholas
Pennsylvania’s primary election proved to be a good day for liberal financier George Soros and his political operation, as well as for the Democratic establishment in Philadelphia. The bigger story, however, is that Western Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County supplanted Philly as the top progressive mecca in the state.
The most high-profile progressive candidate on the ballot Tuesday was a Pittsburgh state representative, Sara Innamorato. She vanquished three well-known and financed men in Allegheny County’s Democratic primary for county executive – including County Treasurer John Weinstein and City Controller Michael Lamb. The incumbent, three-term executive, Democrat Rich Fitzgerald, was term-limited.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, the two most progressive Democratic candidates in the open seat for mayor – former city controller Rebecca Rhynhart and former city councilmember Helen Gym – finished a distant second and third, respectively, on Tuesday. Gym snared the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and ended her campaign with a rally headlined by the congresswoman and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. The winner, though, was mainstream Democrat Cherelle Parker, a former state representative and city council member.
Parker was the beneficiary of soft support from the Democratic machine in the city and very strong support from the black community, a bulwark of Philadelphia’s Democratic primary vote. Rhynhart and Gym split the progressive vote, creating an opening for Parker, the least liberal of the top three women in the race.
Back in Allegheny County, George Soros was also a big winner, as he saw the Democratic candidate he backed for district attorney, Matt Dugan, beat long-time incumbent DA Steve Zappala by a 56-44% margin. At one point, shortly before the primary, campaign finance reports showed that the more than half-million dollars that Soros’s political action committees had pumped into Dugan’s effort accounted for more than 90% of the candidate’s total spending.
A rematch between the two could be in the cards. As the votes are tabulated, Zappala will win the Republican nod for DA as a write-in; if he wishes, he can challenge Dugan in the fall, which could set up a rare competitive general election race in the county.
A competitive DA race would also buoy Rockey, the GOP nominee for county executive. Innamorato, as noted, would be the clear favorite there, but as the most left-of-center politician in the county, she could make the general election interesting. It’s still unproven how well a member of the DSA like Innamorato would fare in a countywide general election. It’s also unclear whether Innamorato would want to moderate her positions in the fall. Another wild card: what role does outgoing county executive Fitzgerald play in the general election? He strongly supported his friend Michael Lamb Tuesday, running hundreds of thousands of dollars of TV ads for him.
It’s not clear whether weak Democrats (those who don’t vote in primaries) will embrace Innamorato’s starkly progressive agenda, or how the 40% of county voters that are either Republicans (28%) or Independents (12%) will react to her plans. The DSA platform calls for defunding the police, enacting the Green New Deal, and pursuing reparations, and supports U.S. withdrawal from NATO.
So even as Allegheny County supplants Pennsylvania’s largest city as the preeminent progressive beacon in the state, it could still host two competitive general elections this fall.