Amid multiple lawsuits and escalating tension, Pennsylvania’s midterm elections kicked off Tuesday.
It was the first day candidates could circulate petitions in what has become one of the most closely watched races in the nation.
"Are you a registered Democrat?" asked a campaign volunteer wearing a blue Dwight Evans for Congress T-shirt.
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The man standing outside a Shop Rite market in Roxborough carrying a clipboard was one of many campaign volunteers who fanned out collecting signatures on behalf of their favorite candidates.
Two women sheepishly signed a petition in favor of Democratic U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans. He represents the former 2nd District and is one of several candidates who has been forced to change races at the last minute after the state Supreme Court issued a new voting map.
“There has to be a blue wave in November,” retired teacher Kathy Stone told NBC10. “Especially with these gun laws, they have to change and the only way they’re going to change is if we do a complete turn around.”
The Germantown resident is part of a potential onslaught of Democratic voters who could flip Pennsylvania from red to blue. The trend is fueled by last week’s state Supreme Court ruling that removed key Republican strongholds from the state’s voting map.
But lingering lawsuits continue to sow confusion ahead of the primary election as Republicans fight a map that is likely to benefit Democrats.
Last week, GOP leaders filed two lawsuits — one in U.S. District Court and another with the U.S. Supreme Court — in hopes of blocking it from taking effect in this year’s midterm election.
In a third action, state House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati had asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to reverse its order. On Tuesday, the court declined to delay or reverse its order.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court already declined to take up the issue until the lower courts weigh in. But a three-judge panel delayed any hearing until March 9.
This is all good news for Democrats, who could gain several seats under the new map. Even newcomers were quick to take advantage of updated boundaries, including 3rd District challenger Kevin Johnson.
The former pastor, who is running against Evans as a Democrat, spent his afternoon at a separate Shop Rite in Parkside. He knows this particular store well. He, his wife, three children and several members of the church he founded — Dare to Imagine — have spent weekends here, handing out food and speaking with congregants.
"This is an opportunity for me to come back and say 'We've helped you before. Now we need your helping running,'" he said.
Johnson's kids held signs while their parents gathered signatures. This was one of many stops throughout the day and the team already has several hundred.
"We want 6,000," he said. "We're not playing."
Relatively unknown outside his congregation, Johnson has the look of someone new to campaigning. This is his first time. He isn't tired, cynical or prone to attacking his rival. When asked why he chose to run against Evans, Johnson demured and since it wasn't personal.
"I live in the new 3rd (congressional district). My church is in the new third. I buy my groceries here in the new third. I go to the cleaners in the new third. So this is really home," he said.
Like so many other candidates, Johnson changed his district after the new map come out. He launched in the 1st District at the beginning of February.
Evans will also run in this new district, which comprises portions of West and Northwest Philly.
Since the court’s decision last week, several other candidates have switched races. Former Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Nina Ahmad on Monday dropped out of the 1st District contest and announced her bid for lieutenant governor against incumbent Mike Stack.
Ahmad replaces Democratic State Rep. Madeleine Dean on that ticket after Dean dropped out in order to run in Montgomery County’s 4th District. She would have faced Democratic State Sen. Daylin Leach in the race, but he canceled his campaign after several female staffers accused him of inappropriate behavior.
Voters wondering how the new map impacts them can click here for a rundown.