On Tuesday, Penn Democrats announced their first round of congressional endorsements for the Pennsylvania Democratic primary on April 28.
The group's executive board voted unanimously to endorse five candidates to represent Pennsylvania in the United States House of Representatives: Dwight Evans (PA-03), Madeleine Dean (PA-04), Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05), Conor Lamb (PA-17), and Eugene DePasquale (PA-10), all of whom except DePasquale are incumbents. The group also endorsed incumbent Josh Shapiro for Pennsylvania Attorney General.
The Penn Dems executive board conducts deliberations to select which candidates to endorse. Approval from six out of nine board members is necessary to secure an endorsement, Penn Dems Communications Director and College first-year Emma Wennberg said.
Penn Dems Political Director and College sophomore Michael Nevett said the executive board chose these candidates because many of them have a good relationship with Penn Dems and have either spoken with Penn Dems in the past or will speak in the future. He said the board chose candidates they feel are focused on fighting for better laws and representation for Pennsylvania.
Nevett also said that although most candidates are incumbents, none held elected federal office before 2016. He said he believes they are a part of an exciting "new wave" of leadership in the House.
“We feel confident in their policies, but also their demeanor, and that they’re excited to work with engaging students," he said.
Among the policies that Penn Dems supports are Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s gun violence prevention plan, which Shapiro co-wrote with student activists, including Nevett.
The group also supports Rep. Dwight Evans’ legislation to combat food insecurity. Evans represents Pennsylvania's 3rd Congressional District, which encompasses Penn, and Nevett believes Evans' push for access to affordable, nutritious food is especially important due to Fresh Grocer’s upcoming closure and the general lack of fresh produce in Philadelphia.
Nevett believes endorsements from Penn Dems have been influential for local and state candidates in the past. He cited Penn Dems’ 2019 endorsement of City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, who defeated incumbent Jannie Blackwell in November. Gauthier represents the 3rd City Council District, which includes Penn.
“Penn voted at a much larger rate than we’ve seen previously for elections like that,” Nevett said. “I think that if Penn Dems didn’t endorse [Gauthier], there’s a very solid chance that she wouldn’t have won.”
Later in the semester, Penn Dems plans to announce additional primary endorsements for Pennsylvania General Assembly candidates running in the 188th District, which encompasses much of Penn, including parts of University City, Beige Block, Spruce Hill, and Walnut Hill. Penn Dems will hold a debate on March 2, featuring local Democratic candidates to help determine the group's endorsements.
“I think our endorsement [for the 188th District] is fairly important, because Penn is a huge part of it but also because so much important legislation happens at the state level,” Wennberg said.
Teddy Weng, a Wharton first-year and Penn Dems member, said he is glad Penn Dems is getting involved in local elections.
“I think it’s good that we’re getting involved at the local level where our votes and our opinions are really competitive,” Weng said. “Penn is a very big presence in Philadelphia, so I think the Penn Dems’ opinion really matters, especially these endorsements.”
The group will consider endorsing a Democratic presidential candidate before the April primary, although Nevett said it is possible Penn Dems will end up not endorsing a primary candidate at all. In the past 12 years, Penn Dems has always endorsed a Democratic candidate ahead of the primary. In 2008 they endorsed former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Nevett said the group wants to make sure the endorsement is reflective of the opinions of the entire club.
"There are a number of candidates in the field, obviously this is historically crowded, and it is also very much in flux," he said. "We want to get a more settled understanding of what’s going to happen and understand our membership’s viewpoints better, since this is such a complicated election and also such a consequential election."
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