Primary Recap: PA Democrats Hold Onto House and Women Make History in Local Primaries

Heather Boyd, center, Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania House of Representatives, greets supporters before voting at her polling place, Christ's Community Church, Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in Drexel Hill, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

By Sean Kitchen

May 17, 2023

Pennsylvania Democrats hold onto the House following Heather Boyd’s special election victory. Women in Philadelphia, Allegheny, and Montgomery Counties make history and shatter glass ceilings following the 2023 municipal primaries.

Pennsylvania Democrats held onto control of the state House on Tuesday following the results of a special election. Heather Boyd defeated Katie Ford, the Republican challenger 60% to 38% in the contest to fill the open 163rd House seat in Delaware County, which was vacated by former Rep. Mike Zabel following a series of sexual harassment allegations.     

Boyd, who previously worked as chief of staff for state Rep. Leanne Kruger and district director for US Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, will join her new colleagues in Harrisburg once the election results are certified. 

Democrats reportedly spent close to $1 million and knocked on 50,000 doors in the days leading up to the special election and galvanized their base around preserving access to abortion. President Biden endorsed Boyd on Monday reinforcing the importance of the special election. 

Gov. Josh Shapiro highlighted the Republican Party’s willingness to use constitutional amendments and bypass his veto pen to harm abortion access and Signe Espinoza, the Planned Parenthood PA PAC Director, said the “future of abortion was on the ballot in this special election.” 

This victory maintains Democrats’ slim state House majority and will allow them to push forward with their agenda. This spring, Democrats passed the Fairness Act (which protects members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination), addressed the teacher shortage, and passed legislation strengthening workers rights. Democrats also advanced a series of gun safety bills that are ready for a final vote after the House reconvenes on May 22.

On the state level, Daniel McCaffery, a judge sitting on the Pennsylvania Superior Court, won the Democratic primary, while Carolyn Carluccio, a judge from the Montgomery Court of Common Pleas, emerged victorious from the Republican primary. The two will face off in November for a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. That seat opened following the death of Justice Max Baer last October. Democrats currently hold a 4-2 majority on the 7 member court.  

At the municipal level, women who ran for office broke through major glass ceilings Tuesday evening. Former Philadelphia City Councilmember Cherelle Parker is poised to become the first female mayor in the city’s 341-year history if she defeats Republican ex-councilmember David Oh in November. Parker beat former Philadelphia Controller Rebecca Rhynhart and former City Councilmember Helen Gym. 

In the Pittsburgh area, State Rep. Sara Innamorato is on track to become Allegheny County’s first female County Executive, a position that was first established in 2000.  Innamorato, who was flanked by US Rep. Summer Lee (D-Allegheny) at her victory party, helped complete the progressive takeover of Allegheny County that began when Innamorato and Lee defeated former Reps. Dom and Paul Costa in the 2018 primary. 

In the District Attorney’s race, Matt Dugan, a public defender who ran as a reformer, defeated longtime DA Steve Zappala in the primary, but will face him again in the fall since Zappala picked up the Republican nomination as a write-in candidate. 

Voters in Montgomery County also made history by voting for Jamila Winder and Neil Makhija in the County Commissioner’s race. Winder was the first Black woman to ever serve on Montgomery County’s Board of Commissioners when she was appointed to the Board following Dr. Val Arkoosh’s departure to serve as Secretary of the Department of Human Services. Now she will be the first black woman elected to this position.  

Makhija, meanwhile, is set to become the first Asian American elected as County Commissioner in Montgomery County and in all of Pennsylvania. Makhija is a first generation American born to Indian immigrants and served as the executive Director of IMPACT, the nation’s leading South Asian civic organization.


  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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