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First House Incumbent Loses Primary, Plus 4 Other Important Down-Ballot Results

Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., facing multiple federal indictments, lost his primary bid on Tuesday night.
Matt Rourke
Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., facing multiple federal indictments, lost his primary bid on Tuesday night.

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump rolled in the delegates in Tuesday night's presidential primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. But there were some other important results in House and Senate primaries that will have bearing on the general election.

Tuesday night brought the first defeat for a House incumbent this primary cycle; the Democratic establishment's favored candidates won in two Senate contests; and a millionaire wine mogul's $12.4 million went down the drain in the most expensive House primary this year.

Here's what happened in five key races we were watching:

Indicted congressman is first incumbent primary casualty

Rep. Chaka Fattah's looming 29-count federal indictment for racketeering, bribery, mail fraud and more was enough to end his 22-year House career. The embattled Democrat lost his primary contest to state Rep. Dwight Evans, who had served in the Pennsylvania Legislature for nearly four decades.

Even though he's the first incumbent to fall in what's shaping up to be an anti-establishment year, exemplified by the rise of both Trump and Bernie Sanders, Fattah's loss had more to do with the ethics cloud hanging over his head than any anti-incumbent sentiment.

Fattah had hoped his seniority and clout in the Democratic caucus, including his spot on the plum Appropriations Committee, could save him, but in the end Evans won the four-way primary by nearly 8 points.

"There were forces arrayed against us tonight of very powerful and influential people," Fattah said in his concession. Evans, who will be the favorite in the heavily Democratic, majority African-American Philadelphia district, had the endorsements of Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, former governor Ed Rendell and current Gov. Tom Wolf.

National Democrats get their pick in Pennsylvania

In what was the most consequential result for the general election on Tuesday night, national Democratic favorite Katie McGinty won the Pennsylvania Senate primary and will face off in November against Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.

It's a top race in a key presidential battleground that could decide the balance of power in the Senate. And national Democratic groups, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and EMILY's List, spent big to help boost McGinty, a former state environmental chief and gubernatorial chief of staff, over 2010 nominee Joe Sestak. President Obama had endorsed McGinty, and Vice President Joe Biden campaigned on her behalf on the final day of the race.

The national party felt Sestak, a former congressman and retired Navy admiral, was too much of a loose cannon and generally a weaker candidate than McGinty to take on Toomey this fall. Plus, he had never mended fences from his ill-fated bid six years ago, when he defeated the party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary. In the end, McGinty beat him by 10 points, a wider margin than most polls had projected.

Race and gender can't lift Edwards over Van Hollen in Maryland

Establishment favorite Chris Van Hollen notched a decisive victory over fellow U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards in the Maryland Democratic Senate primary, and will now be the odds-on favorite to succeed the retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski next year.

Edwards, who would have been just the second African-American woman to serve in the upper chamber if she had won, had leaned in to the historic nature of her candidacy. She also would have been the first black senator from the former slave state. Edwards argued that her perspective as an African-American single mother was badly needed in the Senate, especially at a time where race relations and tensions with law enforcement are strained across the country. EMILY's List and other women's groups invested heavily on her behalf in the bitter primary.

But Van Hollen, who had much of the state's political class and even many African-American female leaders behind him, argued that Edwards was an ineffective member of the House of Representatives and that his experience should be prized over identity politics.

While Edwards did win black voters by 24 points, who made up almost half of the electorate according to Senate exit polls, it was a much smaller margin than Van Hollen had with white voters (49 points).

$12.4 million didn't secure a victory for a wine mogul

Total Wine & More co-founder David Trone poured an astounding $12.4 million of his own fortune into the open Democratic House contest to succeed Van Hollen. But in the end, the risky investment was for naught, as he lost the primary to progressive favorite Jamie Raskin, a Maryland state senator.

Raskin won by 6 points over Trone. Marriott International Inc. executive and former local TV anchor Kathleen Matthews (whose husband is MSNBC host Chris Matthews) was a close third in the suburban Maryland race.

In the end, Trone spent almost $400 per vote for his losing campaign, blanketing the expensive D.C. media market with slickly produced biographical ads. But some speculated that the commercials, plus nonstop direct mail pieces, may have backfired and turned some voters off.

House committee chairman survives a primary scare

Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Bill Shuster staved off a closer-than-expected primary challenge after questions were raised about his relationship with an airline lobbyist.

Shuster's Tea Party rival Art Halvorson had charged that the powerful chairman of the House Transportation Committee's romantic relationship with lobbyist Shelley Rubino was a conflict of interest given his position. Shuster had argued there was no impropriety because he has implemented a rule in his office that blocked his girlfriend from lobbying him or his staff.

Shuster had heavily outraised Halvorson — bringing in $2.6 million to Halvorson's $264,000, which included $200,000 in self-funding — but he still escaped with only a 1-point win — just over 1,000 votes.

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Jessica Taylor
Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.
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