ABOVE PHOTO: Voting signs are seen placed in front of the Pennsylvania State Capital, Monday, Nov. 2,2020, in Harrisburg, Pa.(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Counting of Pennsylvania ballots continued Wednesday, with results still unclear for the presidential contest as well as a host of down-ballot races, including for congressional seats and three row offices.
Election officials are tabulating ballots in a state that held its first general election in which voters did not need an excuse to vote by mail. More than 3 million applied to do so.
President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are hotly contesting Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes, with both campaigns seeing a victory in the state as crucial to their chances of winning the White House.
While county officials tally votes from what is shaping up as massive turnout, several Republican-led lawsuits are being pursued, and Trump’s campaign sought to halt vote counting temporarily, seeking what it calls greater transparency. There have been no reports by law enforcement of fraud or ballot concerns out of Pennsylvania.
The Trump campaign, state election officials, Republican candidates and others have gone to court in recent weeks to settle fights over aspects of state election law, particularly its year-old law that greatly expanded mail-in voting.
The candidates visited at least once a week since the beginning of September, and more money has been spent on political advertising only in Florida, according to the political ad tracking firm Kantar/CMAG.
In 2016, Trump won Pennsylvania by a mere 44,292 votes, or less than 1 percentage point, and any slight shift in part of the electorate this year is significant, campaign strategists say.
Trump’s victory then made him the first Republican to win Pennsylvania since 1988. No Democrat has lost Pennsylvania but won the White House since Harry Truman in 1948.
CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 1
Second-term Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick in Bucks County, just north of Philadelphia, won reelection after being a top target again for Democrats as one of just three House Republicans in the country running for reelection in a district won by Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016′s presidential contest.
Fitzpatrick, a mild-mannered former FBI agent who took over the seat from his late brother, had been challenged by a relative political unknown nominated by Democrats, Christina Finello.
Fitzpatrick voted for Trump’s tax cut and opposed his impeachment. Finello attacked Fitzpatrick as too weak to stand up to Trump and silent in the face of the president’s worst transgressions.
Democrats have a roughly 15,000-voter registration advantage in the district, which Clinton won by 2 percentage points.
CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 7
Freshman Democrat U.S. Rep. Susan Wild defended her Allentown-area seat against Republican nominee Lisa Scheller, a former Lehigh County commissioner who started a pigment manufacturer for paints, coatings and inks and touts her background as someone recovered from addiction who advocates for people in recovery.
Wild, a prominent lawyer in Allentown, scored a 10-percentage-point thumping of her Republican opponent in 2018′s campaign for what was an open seat.
The district is daunting for a Republican. Democrats have a 60,000-voter registration advantage, and Wild had a 3-to-1 campaign cash advantage going into July.
CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 8
Four-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright in northeastern Pennsylvania is in his third go-round of seeking reelection in a district where Trump is popular.
This time Cartwright was challenged by Jim Bognet, a first-time candidate who won a six-person GOP primary, in part, by promising to be a staunch Trump ally.
The district is anchored by the cities of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, both Democratic bastions. But the party’s voter-registration advantage in the district — still at a considerable 58,000 — is shrinking, and Republican hopes of capturing it are perennial.
CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 10
Four-term Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, possessor of one of the most conservative voting records in the House, was challenged by two-term state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.
The race attracted more than $500,000 in spending by outside groups after a Democratic opponent with little name recognition came within 2.5 percentage points of knocking off Perry in 2018.
The district, which includes the cities of York and Harrisburg, has a Republican registration edge of about 22,000, and Trump won it by 9 points in 2016.
CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 16
Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly won a sixth term in a northwestern Pennsylvania district against a political newcomer, teacher Kristy Gnibus, after Kelly won a race, into which national Democrats poured cash, by 4 percentage points in 2018.
Republicans have a small registration advantage, about 22,000, but Democratic parts of the district took the same conservative turn in 2016 as other historically Democratic parts of Pennsylvania where residents are whiter, less affluent and less educated.
CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 17
U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb sought a second full term after becoming a Democratic star in 2018 for winning two races in two Trump districts — a special election in a district Trump won by 20 percentage points and a general election in a redrawn district against a three-term incumbent.
He declared victory late Wednesday night, but The Associated Press has yet to call the race.
Lamb faced a challenge from Republican Sean Parnell, a decorated Army vet who is a regular guest on Fox News programs — he announced his candidacy during an appearance on “Fox & Friends” — and is known for his memoir on the war in Afghanistan and authoring two action novels.
Parnell is also a Trump darling. He got a speaking slot at the Republican National Convention and campaign stump shoutouts from Trump, with southwestern Pennsylvania a regular destination for Trump.
Parnell, in turn, adopted Trump’s law-and-order rhetoric.
The district runs from Pittsburgh’s suburbs through Ohio River towns to the Ohio border and has a heavy — albeit shrinking — Democratic registration advantage of 62,000 votes. But it is also home to many conservative Democrats who helped Trump win it by 2.5 percentage points in 2016.
OTHER CONGRESSIONAL RACES
All of Pennsylvania’s 18 members of Congress sought reelection, and in early results at least 14 won — Republicans Kelly, John Joyce, Brian Fitzpatrick, Fred Keller, Guy Reschenthaler, Glenn Thompson, Lloyd Smucker and Dan Meuser; and Democrats Mike Doyle, Dwight Evans, Mary Gay Scanlon, Chrissy Houlahan, Brendan Boyle and Madeleine Dean.
Heather Heidelbaugh, a lawyer from Mount Lebanon and a former Allegheny County Council member, won the Republican nomination to take on Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro after running unopposed in the primary.
Heidelbaugh has described Shapiro as lacking experience as a courtroom lawyer and having chased headlines to feed political ambition. She cites his recent and repeated publicizing of coronavirus-related price gouging cases.
On what Heidelbaugh calls her top priority, criminal prosecutions, she hopes to start her term by convening a meeting of county district attorneys to help determine the best direction in the fight against opioids and methamphetamine.
Shapiro, a resident of Abington, is a former state lawmaker and Montgomery County commissioner who sought a second term.
He took over following the debacle that was Democrat Kathleen Kane’s term in office. Kane resigned in the fourth year of her term after being convicted of fraud and later served jail time.
Shapiro oversaw the investigation that culminated in the August 2018 release of a grand jury report that found about 300 Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania had sexually abused children for seven decades, and that their higher-ups helped cover it up.
Joe Torsella, considered a potential gubernatorial or U.S. Senate candidate, said his major accomplishments as state treasurer include setting up a scholarship program that begins for children at birth and leading a lawsuit against large Wall Street banks over their bond fees.
The lawsuit resulted in a nearly $400 million settlement over the price fixing claims, money that is being split with other plaintiffs. He has also moved more of the state’s investments into index funds, putting the state on track to save hundreds of millions of dollars in investment fees in the coming decades.
Torsella, 57, a resident of Flourtown, served as President Barack Obama’s envoy for United Nations management and reform, headed the National Constitution Center, and was former Gov. Ed Rendell’s choice to serve as chairperson of the Pennsylvania State Board of Education.
The Republican challenger was Stacy Garrity, 56, who retired as a colonel in 2016 after 30 years with the Army Reserves. She is vice president of a tungsten smelting plant.
Garrity, who lives in Athens in Bradford County, wants to use the Treasury Department’s leverage to push lawmakers and the governor to limit spending to money that has been formally appropriated by the Legislature and end the executive branch’s spending of money outside the pre-approval process.
Joseph Soloski is the Libertarian candidate running for treasurer, Timothy Runkle the Green Party’s.
The race for auditor general pitted Republican Timothy L. DeFoor, a county controller in central Pennsylvania, against Democrat Nina Ahmad, a former deputy Philadelphia mayor.
DeFoor is Black and Ahmad was born in Bangladesh, so in January the state’s first elected “row officer” of color will begin work.
Ahmad, 61, who has a doctorate in chemistry, has said she wants to expand the office’s traditional watchdog role so that it also examines how equitably public money gets distributed. She wants to focus on charter schools and do what she can to expand high-speed internet.
DeFoor, 58, the elected controller in Dauphin County, which includes Harrisburg, touts his experience as making him uniquely qualified for the office. He has spent three decades conducting governmental audits and fraud investigations for the state inspector general, the state attorney general and a large hospital system.
The Green Party candidate for auditor general is Olivia Faison, and the Libertarian is Jennifer Lynn Moore.
All 203 state House seats and half the 50-person Senate were before the voters, with Republican majority control in both chambers at stake.
At least two incumbent Democrats lost. First-term Rep. Wendy Ullman of Bucks County in the Philadelphia suburbs was defeated by Republican Shelby Labs. Democrats also saw hopes of regaining a Senate majority become dimmer as Republican Devlin Robinson unseated Sen. Pam Iovino in a suburban Pittsburgh district.
Democrats went into the election needing a net pickup of nine seats to regain the state House majority, which they have not had in a decade. Two years ago, Democrats gained 11 seats to get to 93 members, versus 110 Republicans.
The Senate is closer, with Democrats needing four seats for a tie that would give them effective majority control. That gap widened with Iovino’s loss.