Why AP called the Pennsylvania 12th District primary for Summer Lee: Race call explained

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FILE - U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, D-Pa., stands for a portrait overlooking the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Monday, April 8, 2024. An election later this month in Pittsburgh and some of its suburbs is emerging as an early test of whether Israel’s war with Gaza poses political threats to progressive Democrats in Congress who have criticized the war. Lee is facing a primary challenge from Bhavini Patel. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — In her primary victory Tuesday in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, first-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Summer Lee not only far outperformed her lone challenger across the District, but she was also on track to far surpass her own win in the primary two years ago.

The Associated Press called the race for Lee at 9:21 p.m. ET, when she led Edgewood Borough Councilmember Bhavini Patel, 59% to 41%, with more than half of the vote reporting.

Lee was ahead in both vote-rich Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, and in Westmoreland County, where she was trounced in the 2022 primary. At the time the race was called, Lee was also ahead in both counties among votes cast by mail as well as those cast on Election Day. Two years ago in Allegheny, Lee lost decisively among votes cast by mail but managed to carry the county overall on the strength of her performance among Election Day votes.

The 12th District votes reliably Democratic in general elections, but the ongoing protests over the Israel-Hamas war have placed the primary contest in a national spotlight. Lee has accused Israel of “war crimes” in Gaza and was an early proponent of a cease-fire. She was also supportive of a campaign to vote “uncommitted” in Democratic presidential primaries to send a message to President Joe Biden over the war.

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Lee narrowly defeated attorney Steve Irwin in the 2022 Democratic primary, 41.9% to 41.0%. She led Irwin in Allegheny County by less than 5,000 votes, a margin of about 4.5 percentage points. Irwin dominated in Westmoreland County, with 56% of the vote compared to 24% for Lee. But Westmoreland makes up only about 10% of the vote in the 12th District.

Lee’s victory Tuesday as well as her 2022 primary victory were both powered by her strong performance in Pittsburgh, where she was far ahead of Patel, 62% to 38%, at the time the AP called the winner. Two years ago, Lee bested Irwin in Pittsburgh, 54% to 31%.

Lee will face Republican James Hayes in November. She defeated her Republican opponent in 2022, 56% to 44%. Voters in the 12th District gave Democrat Hillary Clinton 57% of the vote in the 2016 presidential election and President Joe Biden 59% of the vote in 2020.

Yoon is an elections and democracy reporter for The Associated Press, with a focus on analyzing vote and demographic data and explaining the intricacies of the electoral process. He is now covering his seventh presidential campaign cycle.