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In the Suburban Philadelphia Primaries, the Democratic Establishment Embraces Progressivism

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In January, the Times reported that Pat Meehan, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania’s Seventh District, had used taxpayer money to settle a sexual-harassment claim brought by a young woman who had worked for him as an aide. In the days after the story broke, Meehan, a sixty-two-year-old married father of three, appeared to come unwound. Speaking to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Meehan denied that he had sexually harassed his staffer but called her his “soul mate” and said that he had been jealous because she had a new boyfriend. Two days later, he announced that he would not seek reëlection. There are more registered Democrats in Pennsylvania than registered Republicans, but the Republican Party’s gerrymandering efforts have been so successful that thirteen of the eighteen representatives that the state sent to Congress this term were Republicans. (And all eighteen were men.) The heart of Meehan’s former district is on the Main Line—the suburbs outside Philadelphia—and the story of the petulant Republican congressman’s unrequited crush on a young aide served to concentrate the local progressive revulsion at the Trump era. On Tuesday, when Pennsylvania held its primaries, the Seventh District—which, like several others in the state, had recently been made more amenable to Democrats by court-ordered redistricting—had ten Democrats on the ballot, six of them women.

For Democrats to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the November elections, they will have to win twenty-three seats that are now held by Republicans. At least three vulnerable Republican seats are in the Philadelphia suburbs—where Hillary Clinton won all four districts in 2016—a concentration that has given the races there a special charge. The primaries on Tuesday were, in theory, a good gauge of suburban Democrats’ political mood this year, and in the lead-up to the vote the lack of space between the Party’s moderate candidates and its progressive ones suggested that Democrats have shifted more or less together to the left—a wedding party, doing the electric slide. In Bucks County, where the Democratic primary for the First Congressional District featured a millionaire businessman, a Bernie Sanders acolyte, and a female former fighter pilot who had until recently been a Republican, there nevertheless was, according to John Cordisco, the Bucks County Democratic chair, “a tremendous amount of similarities between the candidates on the major issues.” In Meehan’s posh Main Line district, the Delaware County Democratic chair, David Landau, told me, nearly the


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