Pennsylvania primary 2019: Your guide to Tuesday’s statewide and special elections

By: - May 19, 2019 6:30 am

Candidates for Superior Court Judge. Top row, GOP: Rebecca Warren, Megan McCarthy King, Christylee Peck; Bottom row, Dems: Amanda Green-Hawkins, ​​Beth Tarasi, Daniel McCaffery ​​​

We here at the Capital-Star believe that all elections matter.

That includes Tuesday’s municipal primary.

To help you out, we’ve assembled a quick guide to the statewide and special elections you should know about below.

Statewide, Democrats and Republicans will select their candidate for two open seats on an appellate court. There are also a number of special elections that all registered voters in those districts — not just members of the two major parties — can participate in.

Before we dig in, a few house cleaning notes:

  • Make sure you’re registered to vote here.
  • Find your polling place here, or by calling your local county Board of Elections.
  • Independents and third-party voters: Don’t stay home if there’s a ballot question or special election in your area.

With those logistics out of the way, here are the races you need to know about.

Superior Court

The 15-member* Superior Court is one of two statewide appeals courts. The judges decide private disputes that do not involve the state government.

Two positions are open on the court this year after one judge aged out and another opted not to run for retention.

Three Republicans and three Democrats are running for their party’s nomination. With two seats open, members of the party will have the option to pick two — yes, two! — candidates.

Am I voting in this election? If you’re a registered Democrat or Republican anywhere in the state, yes.


Amanda Green-Hawkins is an attorney for the United Steelworkers and a former Allegheny County councilwoman. Her campaign website says she “fought for working families, the underprivileged and civil rights for years.”

Green-Hawkins has the endorsement of many industrial unions, Planned Parenthood PA, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, and the state Democratic Party. The Pennsylvania Bar Association did not recommend her.

The Association praised her integrity, work for the underserved, and demeanor, but a lack of experience on the bench gave the group pause.

Daniel McCaffery is a Court of Common Pleas judge in Philadelphia, who spent six years as an assistant district attorney and 15 years in private practice before running for a judgeship.

He’d probably rather have voters forget it, but McCaffery is also the brother of former state Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery, who resigned after being caught up in the Porngate investigation under ex-Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

McCaffery carries a host of endorsements from trade and first responders unions, as well as support from Philadelphia elected officials including state Sen. Tony Williams. He is also endorsed by the state party and is “highly recommended” by the state bar — its highest possible rating.

Beth Tarasi is a former congressional candidate from Allegheny County. She has decades of legal experience as a lawyer, according to her website.

Despite no experience previous judicial experience, the state bar complimented her body of work and temperament. But a plagiarism accusation during her bar interview led the association to decline to recommend her for the court.

Her website touts other endorsements of her legal skills and integrity, as well as the backing of Pittsburgh’s Steel City Stonewall Democrats, an LGBTQ political group.


Megan McCarthy King has clerked for current state Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Saylor, and has served as an assistant district attorney in both Lancaster and Chester counties, handling cases of child and elder abuse.

She has the backing of the state GOP, and is recommended by the state bar, which cited her experience and the testimony of other judges and lawyers. Four Republican congressmen who represent Pennsylvania also endorsed King.

Christylee Peck, like King, can cite experience as an assistant DA prosecuting child abuse. In 2011, she was elected to the Cumberland County bench and has served since.

On her campaign website, Peck cites the endorsement of the state troopers’ union, the correction officers’ union, and the Pro-Life Federation. She is also recommended by the bar and endorsed by the state party. Like King, she is endorsed by four Republican congressmen who represent Pennsylvania.

Rebecca Warren, who previously ran for state Supreme Court in 2015, was the district attorney of Montour County from 2011 to 2015.

Not endorsed by the state party, her campaign Facebook trumpets the recommendation of Firearm Owners Against Crime — a pro-gun group that recommended all three Republican candidates —  as well as the endorsement of the state troopers’ association. Her website additionally touts legal work for President Donald Trump’s campaign on ballot challenges and recount requests.

She did not talk to the state bar this year, so the group did not recommend her. During her 2015 run for Supreme Court, the bar questioned if she had the “temperament, collegiality and demeanor required of an appellate court judge.”

Read more: 3 things to know about the Pa. Superior Court candidates: Their legal heroes, fundraising, and biggest weaknesses | Philadelphia Inquirer

Special elections

A busy special election continues apace with four scheduled for primary day.

It’s important to note that all registered voters in these districts, including independents, can vote in these elections. You do not have to be a registered Democrat or Republican.

12th Congressional District candidates Republican Fred Keller and Democrat Marc Friedenberg. (Courtesy campaign Facebook pages)
12th Congressional District candidates Republican Fred Keller and Democrat Marc Friedenberg. (Courtesy campaign Facebook pages)

12th Congressional District

Candidates: Republican state Rep. Fred Keller was first elected to the House in 2010.

He regularly voted with the Republican majority on liquor privatization, budgets, and abortion restrictions.

But he also backed Act 79, which makes it easier to take guns away from people convicted or accused of domestic abuse, in a vote that split the Republican caucus.

That vote cost him the backing of more rigid state gun groups, but he still has the support of the National Rifle Association.

Keller is also endorsed by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. He touts private sector experience, fiscal restraint, and cutting regulations as priorities.

Democrat Marc Friedenberg is a Penn State professor who unsuccessfully ran for the seat in November 2018.

He’s running on a progressive agenda, including Medicare for All, and also backs stricter environmental protections and expanding rural broadband.

Am I voting in this election? You can find that out by entering your address here.

The 12th District, drawn by the state Supreme Court last year, stretches from the New York-Pennsylvania border down to Perry County just northwest of Harrisburg. It includes State College, Williamsport, and Sunbury.

Why is this seat open? Former U.S. Rep. Tom Marino resigned barely a month into his fifth term for health reasons.

Read more: In 12th district special election, Democrat Marc Friedenberg faces a steep uphill fight | PA Post

‘Shame on you’: Pa. congressional candidates clash at debate | PA Post

Sarah Hammond, left, and Doug Mastriano. (Courtesy campaign websites)
Sarah Hammond, left, and Doug Mastriano. (Courtesy campaign websites)

33rd State Senate District

Candidates: Retired Army colonel Doug Mastriano, a Republican from Franklin County, unsuccessfully for Congress in the 13th District last year.

His campaign Facebook page says he is opposed to abortion access and same-sex marriage, and favors gun rights and tax cuts. His personal Facebook, meanwhile, featured a number of conspiratorial, Islamaphobic memes, as reported by Capital-Star.

Democrat Sarah Hammond, of York County, is municipal planner.

Hammond’s campaign Facebook page and website don’t list any issues, but a press release announcing her nomination cited raising the minimum wage and health care as priorities.

Am I voting in this election? You can find out by entering your address here.

The district includes all of Adams County as well as parts of York, Cumberland, and Franklin counties.

Why is this seat open? Former Sen. Richard Alloway resigned in February.

Read more: Hammond, Mastriano vie for Senate seat (sign-in required) | Shippensburg News-Chronicle

Pa. special election: Hear from the candidates for the 33rd District Senate seat | Hanover Evening Sun

41st District candidates Democrat Susan Boser and Republican Joe Pittman. (Courtesy campaign Facebook pages)
41st District candidates Democrat Susan Boser and Republican Joe Pittman. (Courtesy campaign Facebook pages)

41st State Senate District

Candidates: Republican Joe Pittman, of Indiana County, was chief of staff to former Sen. Don White. He was nominated by the local party to take White’s place.

His campaign website lists no issues, but it does cite community work and a lifetime NRA membership.

Democrat Susan Boser is a professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Boser unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-15th District, last year, and is now running for the 41st on a platform of funding opioid recovery and expanding rural broadband.

Am I voting in this election? You can find out by entering your address here.

The district includes all of Indiana and Armstrong counties and parts of Butler and Westmoreland counties.

Why is this seat open? Sen. Don White, in office since 2000, retired mid-term in February.

Read more: Pittman, Boser discuss topics in 41st Senate District race | Butler Eagle

Special election candidates Sam Doctor and Marci Mustello. (Courtesy campaign Facebook pages)
Special election candidates Sam Doctor and Marci Mustello. (Courtesy campaign Facebook pages)

11th State House District

Candidates: Republican committeewoman Marci Mustello works for U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16th District.

Mustello is a social conservative with backing from the business community. She told the Capital-Star she wants to make sure that “Harrisburg remembers Western Pennsylvania.”

Democrat Sam Doctor, meanwhile, is a union ironworker. He says he’d fight anti-union right-to-work laws and would try to clean up Harrisburg corruption.

Both are pro-Second Amendment.

Am I voting in this election? You can find out by entering your address here.

The 11th is entirely within Butler County and includes the city of Butler proper.

Why is this seat open? Ex-Rep. Brian Ellis resigned in March following sexual assault allegations.

Read more: Butler County state House district sees rare two-party election contest | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Butler Congressman Interrupts State House Debate At Community College | KDKA

Correction: This piece has been updated to correctly reflect that the Pennsylvania Superior Court has 15 members.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.