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Summer Lee beats primary challenger after facing pressure over Israel-Gaza

Rep. Summer Lee, a far-left Democrat who has been critical of Israel’s military actions in Gaza, prevailed in Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary election, which epitomized larger intraparty tensions over the Middle East and served as a test of Democratic voters’ attitudes about the war.

The race in Pennsylvania’s 12th District was considered a first test for the “Squad” of left-wing, progressive Democrats in Congress, some of whom face primaries this summer. But Lee’s race failed to attract the heavy outside spending from pro-Israel groups that is expected in future Democratic primaries, most notably against Rep. Jamaal Bowman in New York and Rep. Cori Bush in Missouri.

“A lot of people wanted to convince us that we could not be pro-peace and win this district,” Lee said in her victory speech.

Pennsylvania will play a pivotal role in the November rematch between President Biden and former president Donald Trump in the battle for the White House, and the state is also critical for both parties as they jostle for control of the Senate and House.

Tuesday’s primary cemented three competitive races whose outcomes will help determine control in Congress. Sen. Bob Casey (D) will officially face businessman David McCormick (R) in what is expected to be one of the most expensive and closely watched Senate races in the country.

Republican Rep. Scott Perry will face longtime local television news anchor Janelle Stelson, a Democrat, in his bid for reelection in Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District. Democrats are targeting Perry’s Harrisburg-area seat as one they can potentially flip in their effort to win back the House. And Democratic Rep. Susan Wild will defend her 7th District seat against Ryan Mackenzie, a GOP state representative. The Lehigh Valley-area district is a perennial battleground, and Republicans have again identified it as a chance to oust a Democrat as they fight to hold on to their slim House majority.

Lee, a freshman congresswoman representing the Pittsburgh area, survived a Democratic primary challenge from Edgewood Borough Council member Bhavini Patel in a race that highlighted Democratic divisions over Israel.

Last fall, Lee was one of the first members of Congress to call for a cease-fire and to criticize the Israeli government’s response to Hamas’s attack on Oct. 7.

At the time, her position set her apart from the majority of her party. But in the past six months, voter sentiment toward the conflict has shifted, and more Democrats — including Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) — have sharpened their criticism of the Israeli government. In interviews with voters in Lee’s district ahead of the primary, some Lee backers said they initially were unsure about her position but had come to accept it or view it as more mainstream.

In a tweet after her victory, Lee wrote, “Opposing genocide is good politics and good policy. #CeasefireNOW.”

The race between Casey and McCormick is expected to be one of the most competitive Senate matchups in the country, as Democrats fend off challenges to their one-seat majority in the upper chamber. The race will also take place in one of the most crucial battleground states that will decide the presidential election.

Casey is well-known throughout the state; his family name is a fixture in Pennsylvania politics. He has held the Senate seat since 2007 and is the son of Robert Casey Sr., a two-term governor from 1987 to 1995. Casey has easily won his past reelections, and public polling shows him with an early advantage, leading by seven percentage points in a Franklin & Marshall College poll last month.

But Republicans are hopeful that McCormick, a former hedge fund CEO, will be Casey’s most formidable challenger yet. After narrowly losing the Senate nomination in 2022 to television doctor Mehmet Oz, McCormick coalesced the party around his candidacy and avoided a primary challenge.

McCormick intends to paint Casey as a career politician and hopes Casey will be dragged down by Biden’s tepid approval ratings and voters’ persistent unease about the economy.

Casey hopes that having Trump at the top of the Republican ticket will hurt McCormick among suburban swing voters essential to winning the state. In 2022, Trump endorsed Oz and eviscerated McCormick as a “liberal Wall Street Republican.” But the two have since endorsed each other in this year’s campaign. Democrats will also attack McCormick for living in Connecticut, where he still has a home.

Stelson handily won the six-person primary to challenge Perry.

Democrats believe that Stelson, who until January 2023 was a registered Republican, can win over independents and moderate Republicans who may be turned off by Perry’s conservatism and ties to Trump. Stelson, who enjoys high name recognition because of her years on television, has attacked Perry over his support for the Life Begins at Conception Act, legislation in Congress that would effectively ban abortion nationwide.

But Republicans point to Perry’s comfortable reelection victories in previous cycles as evidence that he will prevail again. He won the district by eight percentage points in 2022 even as Democrat Josh Shapiro won the district by 12 points in the governor’s race.

Perry, who previously chaired the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, also played a central role in efforts to undermine the results of the 2020 presidential election, which Democrats hope will damage him with Trump at the top of the ticket. The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol found that Perry took part in White House meetings where strategies to try to challenge the transfer of power were discussed. After Trump supporters attacked the Capitol, Perry formally objected to the counting of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes.

“Together, we can defeat his extremism and chaos and bring commonsense problem-solving back to Congress,” Stelson posted on X after her victory.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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