Rep. Summer Lee beats back primary challenge in Pennsylvania

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Rep. Summer Lee has won the Democratic primary for Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, according to Decision Desk HQ, fending off a primary challenge amid frustrations over her views on the Israel-Hamas war.

A first-term member of the Squad and a rising star within the progressive coalition, Lee will go on to compete in the blue district in the general election, having withstood Edgewood Councilmember Bhavini Patel’s primary challenge. 

Lee was a top target this cycle of Democrats and Republicans alike looking to oust the left-wing congresswoman from her western Pennsylvania seat. Her positions on the Israel-Hamas war, including calling for a cease-fire throughout the conflict and expressing pro-Palestinian sentiments, made her more vulnerable than other House progressives. 

This cycle, her top source of attack was Jeffrey Yass, a billionaire GOP donor who spent heavily to knock down Lee through a super PAC supporting Patel.

While Lee faced criticism from some conservatives and moderates, she amassed a base as the popular first Black congresswoman from the state, leading to a sizable fundraising sum. 

According to her campaign, Lee brought in $2.5 million with a $1.18 million war chest. Lee’s campaign said she outraised Patel by “more than triple” in the first fundraising quarter and ultimately “raised more than any other House candidate in Pennsylvania” by the fourth quarter. The vast majority of her contributions came from small-dollar donations. 

Her groundswell of support was not limited to individual voters in the district. She earned endorsements from a variety of Democrats across the ideological spectrum, from Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), as well as major advocacy organizations including the AFL-CIO and Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

She was also backed by Justice Democrats, who helped recruit and run Lee ahead of the 2022 midterms, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus. Notably, populist Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), who has been a vocal ally of Israel during his first term in office, also supported her reelection alongside Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

During Lee’s first race, which she barely won by only a handful of votes, Democratic Majority for Israel, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and its related super PAC United Democracy Project were all deeply interested in making sure Lee wasn’t elected to Congress. This cycle, however, they were not directly involved, with Yass instead taking a leading role in funding her opponent. 

Yass’s involvement against Lee and link to former President Trump has defined much of the race. Some of her highest-profile surrogates including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) sought to draw a contrast between Lee’s rebuke of corporate money in politics and Patel’s funding from Yass.

“Time and time again, @SummerForPA has stood up to the billionaire class,” Sanders wrote in a post on the social platform X just before Election Day. “Now billionaire Trump donors like Jeffrey Yass are spending millions to defeat her.”

The messaging, which was bolstered by Lee herself, proved effective. Her win all but solidifies another term in the lower chamber as part of the more outspoken wing of the progressive caucus that has been targeted this cycle by moderates and some Trump-aligned Republicans from the outside.

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