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5 things we’re watching for in Tuesday’s primary

PHILADELPHIA — The presidential primary election winners in Pennsylvania may be a foregone conclusion but there are still plenty of other storylines to watch for on Tuesday.

What turnout looks like in the state, how voters in different geographic areas turn out relative to past years, and whether voters sit out of the presidential election could offer clues for both parties in a critical swing state ahead of November.

What does Pennsylvania turnout look like?

Three statewide races — the battles for attorney general, auditor general, and treasurer have contested primaries this year. But higher-profile primary races for president, Senate, and most congressional contests across the state are uncontested. That means the voters who come out for this primary are the ultra-motivated ones whom both parties can likely count on to return in November.

How turnout compares to past primaries will give a sense more broadly of whether people are more or less motivated than they were at this point in 2020, when former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden were on the ballot and had each secured their parties' nominations.

Turnout in Philadelphia is always scrutinized, given its importance to Democrats in statewide races. A stronger showing in the city in a slow primary would be a positive sign for Biden and Sen. Bob Casey, both of whom are wary of a steady drop in the city's share of the statewide Democratic vote count.

A boost in turnout in more Republican areas could emphasize Trump's grip on his base, which has traditionally been especially motivated when he is on the ballot.

What does the 'uncommitted' backlash against President Joe Biden look like in Pennsylvania?

Progressive activists upset at Biden over his support of Israel's military operation in Gaza have been encouraging voters to vote “uncommitted” in the Democratic primaries in protest. Activists across the country followed the lead of a group of activists in Michigan who helped secure enough uncommitted votes to be represented at the Democratic National Convention.

Voting uncommitted is not an option in Pennsylvania, but an initiative funded by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) called Vote Uncommitted PA is encouraging people to write in “uncommitted” in the Democratic primary. Since Pennsylvania has closed primaries, voters must be registered as a Democrat to participate.

The group has said its goal is to get 40,000 people to write in “uncommitted,” on the Democratic presidential line. Biden won the state by just over 80,000 votes in 2020. Unlike states where “uncommitted” is a listed option, the total number of write-in votes for the phrase won't be immediately known on election night.

Pro-Palestinian protesters have shown up at Biden's events in Pennsylvania habitually and a high number of uncommitted write-in votes for him here would emphasize his weakened support in polls with younger voters.

Do some voters sit out the presidential race?

Both Biden and Trump are broadly unpopular with voters. But what does that look like when people show up to vote? Do some voters sit out the presidential race but vote down the ballot for Senate and other offices? It's a question that will be particularly interesting for Democratic incumbent Casey and Republican challenger Dave McCormick, who are endorsed by Biden and Trump, but also trying to appeal to swing voters unhappy with the presidential picks.

Former Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley will also appear on the ballot and could net some protest votes against Trump from Republican primary voters.

What happens in the attorney general's race?

State attorneys general have played an increasingly important role in national politics in recent years. GOP attorneys general have thwarted Biden's student debt relief plan and other policies, while Democratic attorneys general led the legal fight against Trump during his presidency, including Gov. Josh Shapiro, who was Pennsylvania attorney general at the time.

Five Democrats are vying for the open Democratic nomination: State Rep. Jared Solomon, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, Philadelphia's former chief public defender Keir Bradford-Grey, former Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, and former Bucks County Solicitor Joe Khan.

There are also two Republicans on the ballot: York County District Attorney Dave Sunday and State Rep. Craig Williams, R., Delaware. Sunday is the state party's endorsed candidate.

Crime was a major issue in the Philadelphia mayor's race and is consistently something voters rank among their top issues, especially when combined with border security at the national level. Crime in the city has already emerged as a key focus in the attorney general race for candidates of both parties.

And this primary sets up a high-stakes contest for the fall. Whoever wins in November will be seen as a top contender for governor in future years.

Do Pennsylvania's incumbent members of Congress fend off primary challengers?

U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, D., Pa., is Pennsylvania's most progressive representative and the state's lone Democratic incumbent facing a serious challenger in the primary. Her race has centered on contrasting views of the war in Gaza and is a microcosm of the debate between progressive and moderate Democrats headed into the November general election.

A freshman Democrat and the first Black woman to represent the state in Congress, Lee is hoping to win reelection in the Western Pennsylvania district by focusing on constituent services and money she's brought home for projects.

Lee's primary challenger, Bhavini Patel, argues that she's too extreme for the district and an antagonist to Biden, a message that has been buoyed by an outside group funded by Pennsylvania billionaire Jeffrey Yass.

Lee is favored to hold onto her seat but if she loses, it would be a major blow to the progressive movement and cease-fire activists as well as a victory for Republican groups meddling in Democratic primaries.

In Bucks County, U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is the lone Republican still representing one of Philadelphia's collar counties and one of 18 House Republicans elected in districts where voters backed Biden in 2020. The district is a bellwether for the state and a place where divisions between the Republican Party's Trump loyalists and more moderate members have been playing out for years.

Mark Houck, who made a name for himself after getting arrested protesting at a Philadelphia Planned Parenthood clinic, is a long-shot candidate, who has argued Fitzpatrick isn't conservative enough for the district.

Fitzpatrick has not said whether he will endorse Trump, the party's presumptive nominee, or vote for him ahead of the Pennsylvania primary. He's also running a very low-key primary race of his own, avoiding national and local media.

If Houck prevails, it's not only a sign of how Trump-aligned the Republican Party has become in Bucks but could be good news for Democrats who have eyed the seat for years and would be running against a more extreme candidate in a tightly contested district.

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