Step write-in: Lehigh Valley voters show some love to candidates not on the ballot
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Lehigh Valley voters ordered off the menu in Tuesday's primary when they threw plenty of support to write-in candidates, potentially reshaping some races for the November election.
Lehigh and Northampton counties have posted their unofficial results in the May primaries, but the data available for now is incomplete. Records show several races, including for both district attorneys, Easton mayor and two Northampton County commissioner races, saw high volumes of write-in ballots.
Counties don't tally who those ballots support for a few more days, but several candidates have expressed optimism that they've earned a spot on the November ballot as a result.
- Gavin Holihan's campaign believes he will secure the Republican and Democratic nominations for Lehigh County district attorney
- Republican officials are optimistic William Rowe and Kerry Myers will appear on the November ballot for seats on Northampton County Council
- It's not clear who has won a Democratic write-in campaign for Bethlehem treasurer
In the Lehigh County district attorney race, Gavin Holihan cruised to victory in his uncontested campaign for the Republican nomination. At the same time, records show 1,911 votes cast for write-in candidates in the vacant Democratic primary.
Holihan, who now works as Lehigh County's first assistant district attorney, was in court and not available for comment Wednesday afternoon, said Sam Chen, a consultant for Holihan's campaign.
In Bethlehem, there were dueling write-in campaigns for treasurer. The Bethlehem Democratic Club says the candidates are former mayoral candidate Dana Grubb and Bethlehem Food Co-Op board member Kathy Fox.
But Chen said the campaign did court Democrats for their party's nomination. Campaign staff were hoping to reach the 250-vote minimum for consideration, he said. Seeing so many write-in votes when there wasn't another publicized campaign for the nomination gave them a welcome jolt, Chen said.
"I would venture a guess that a majority of them are for Gavin," Chen said. "We're feeling pretty good."
Holihan secured endorsements from several prominent Democrats, including County Executive Phillips Armstrong and state Reps. Michael Schlossberg and Josh Siegel. Alburtis Mayor Kathleen Palmer, another Democrat, worked the polls for Holihan as well, Chen said. Many Democrats in leadership positions, he said, effectively offered tacit endorsements by declining to find a Democratic candidate to run in November.
A 3rd candidate for Northampton County DA?
Meanwhile, in the Northampton County district attorney race, incumbent Terry Houck appears to have survived through November with his own write-in campaign. Unofficial results show he lost the Democratic nomination by 2,100 votes to challenger Stephen Baratta. However, the county reported receiving about 2,100 write-in votes in the vacant Republican primary, and Houck declared victory in that primary Tuesday night.
Glenn Geissinger, chair of the Northampton County Republican Committee, said Wednesday that his party will not lift a finger to help Houck succeed in November. Instead, they are in talks for a potential third candidate to mount a write-in campaign for the general election, he said. Geissinger declined to name the potential candidate, saying they have not officially decided to enter the race.
Trying to mount a write-in campaign this late in the game in a statewide race would be a waste of resources, he said. But if given enough time and money, Geissinger believes county Republicans could reasonably rally around one of their own. It may not hurt that Baratta and Houck have engaged in a scorched-earth campaign that's included accusations of misconduct and poor judgment.
"We have the resources available, and we can get a message going to a sufficient number of people to tell people to vote for a real Republican," Geissinger said. "Even with Terry Houck on the ballot with an 'R' next to his name."
Northampton County Council races
Republicans were also optimistic they'll have candidates of their own in two Northampton County Council district races. William Rowe was kicked off the Republican ballot for the Bethlehem area district in March due to a technicality with his nomination forms. He quickly launched a write-in campaign, and county records show 451 write-in votes in that race. Geissinger said he was confident Rowe will emerge as the GOP candidate in that race. If so, Rowe will still face a tough challenge as a Republican in a region that strongly favors Democrats.
Republicans may have more luck in the Easton area district, where the county shows 299 write-in ballots. County Council President Kerry Myers said he hoped that enough were for him to secure him the Republican nomination.
"Who knows at this point? We'll have to wait and see," he said.
Myers was booted off the Democratic ballot after the husband of Democratic challenger Kelly Keegan challenged the validity of hundreds of signatures on Myers' nomination petition. But in late April, Myers publicly switched his affiliation to the Republican Party, and conservatives rallied to his side.
Republicans have found little success in the Easton area district over the past decade, but Myers could be their strongest candidate in years if he makes the November ballot. Aside from being an incumbent, he has deep roots in Easton and previously served as president of the Easton Area School Board.
"I think more than anything else, it will be a battle for the independent vote," Myers said of a potential race against Keegan.
Write-in campaigns to watch in Easton, Bethlehem
Incumbent Sal Panto defeated city Councilman Peter Melan in the Democratic primary for Easton mayor, but he may need to keep working if he hopes to secure a seventh term in November. Northampton County counts 114 write-in votes in the Republican nomination. While the overall tally will be close, former Easton Area School Board member Tim Reilly may have gotten enough to earn the nod from Republicans.
Reilly previously challenged Panto in 2019 but proved to be little more than a speed bump — Panto dominated their showdown with more than 81% of the vote. Reilly did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.
Bethlehem also saw dueling write-in campaigns for treasurer. Unofficial results from Lehigh and Northampton counties showed more than 600 votes cast in the Democratic primary, but it's not clear who won.
According to the Bethlehem Democratic Club website, the candidates are former Bethlehem mayoral candidate Dana Grubb, a former city employee, and Bethlehem Food Co-Op board member Kathy Fox.