Decision 2020

Socialist Is Projected Winner Over Incumbent Democrat for Philly State Senate Seat

Many thousands of mail-in ballots remain uncounted in Pennsylvania's 1st Senate District, but the Associated Press has already called the primary election race for magazine editor Nikil Saval.

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A literary magazine editor who was endorsed by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and received local union support has been declared the winner in the Democratic primary for Pennsylvania's 1st Senate District.

The district has been represented by Democratic Sen. Larry Farnese for the last 12 years and is made up of Philadelphia neighborhoods stretching from South Philadelphia to the Lower Northeast section of the city.

Nikil Saval, who considers himself a socialist, received 10,361 votes compared to Farnese's 4,826 after all the in-person ballots were counted. But according to state data obtained by local election analysis blog Sixty-Six Wards, there are still as many as 40,000 mail-in ballots to count.

Headshots of Nikil Saval and Larry Farnese
Nikil Saval, left, and Sen. Larry Farnese, faced off in the 2020 Democratic primary for Pennsylvania's 1st Senate District.

That leaves Farnese with a path to victory if voters who cast ballots for him outnumber Saval by at least 10% in the mail-in count, according to Sixty-Six Wards.

Still, the Associated Press projected Saval the winner. Saval did not declare victory as of 2 p.m. Wednesday, and Farnese had yet to concede.

Saval's campaign manager, Amanda McIllmurray, said the candidate "wants to make sure every voter's voice is heard" before making an announcement.

McIllmurray said Saval "had a really compelling message" about jobs, housing and climate change that energized voters. The campaign was also incredibly engaged, she said.

"We made 210,000 phone calls, sent out 165,000 texts and knocked on 30,000 doors," McIllmurray said.

Farnese's campaign could not be reached for comment.

Mail-in ballots could take several days to finish tallying, Philadelphia election officials said Tuesday night.

Farnese won his Senate seat after former longtime incumbent Vincent Fumo was convicted of corruption and sent to prison. The 1st Senate District is a diverse area that encompasses much of the eastern portion of Philadelphia, from the bottom of South Philadelphia through Center City and up into neighborhoods including Fishtown and Port Richmond.

Saval received prominent news coverage, including a feature story in the New York Times last month, and had the support of labor unions in Philadelphia, including the powerful IBEW Local 98 led by John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty.

Local 98 gave Saval's campaign $50,000 in May. Saval also received Sanders' endorsement, a powerful nod from the former presidential candidate.

The 1st Senate district has evolved over the last two decades to include neighborhoods with many young and new Philadelphia residents.

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