Home » Rep. Summer Lee Wins Dem Primary, Despite Being Targeted For Supporting Cease-Fire

Rep. Summer Lee Wins Dem Primary, Despite Being Targeted For Supporting Cease-Fire

Pennsylvania Rep. Summer Lee, a member of the progressive Squad, easily dispatched her Democratic challenger in Tuesday’s primary, after a much-hyped battle over Lee’s early support for a ceasefire in Gaza never fully materialized.

The AP called the race in favor of Lee, who is in her first term in Congress, shortly after the polls closed Tuesday night. Her challenger, borough council member Bhavini Patel, attracted support from Pennsylvania’s richest resident, Republican billionaire Jeffrey Yass. But Lee never faced the firehose of outside spending by pro-Israel groups, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, that many progressives initially feared.

Patel’s attacks on Lee for being insufficiently loyal to Biden also fell flat, with Biden himself praising Lee during the final days of the primary campaign.

Although she cruised to victory, Lee warned that her fellow progressives would face a similar playbook in the months ahead.

“This is going to be the blueprint,” she said in an interview with HuffPost in the closing weeks of the primary. “No one is beating progressives without lying about us. They have to distort our values, because the reality is, when people get our message clearly, they like it.”

Progressives were braced for Lee to face a punishing reelection when, after the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7, AIPAC promised an unprecedented effort to unseat lawmakers critical of Israel.

AIPAC and its super PAC, the United Democracy Project, ended last year having shattered their previous fundraising records, with $41 million cash on hand and counting.

Lee, like other Squad members, was reportedly one of AIPAC’s top targets. The United Democracy Project had already spent nearly $4 million trying to defeat Lee in her first race, an open primary she won by less than 1,000 votes. And that was before she became one of the first members of Congress to condemn Israel’s military response after Oct. 7, accusing Israel of “blatant human rights violations being committed in front of our eyes.”

Ultimately, though, AIPAC’s super PAC and another prominent pro-Israel PAC, the Democratic Majority for Israel, never entered Lee’s race. The vast majority of Democratic voters have turned against Israel’s Gaza offensive. And Lee, in AIPAC’s judgment, was too popular an incumbent, while Patel lacked the network and name recognition to be a formidable opponent.

Lee dwarfed Patel in fundraising. She campaigned on the several multimillion infrastructure grants she helped bring to her district. And she benefited from progressive demands that Democratic party leaders do more to support left-wing incumbents, too, notching an endorsement from House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).

Patel nevertheless sought to keep the Israel-Hamas war at the center of the campaign. She campaigned heavily in Squirrel Hill, a predominantly Jewish neighborhood and the site of the deadly antisemitic attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in 2018, and accused Lee of “stoking antisemitism” with her condemnations of Israel.

Patel had one significant source of financial support: Yass, whose super PAC, the Moderate PAC, laid out six-figures on attack ads against Lee. Yass is a Republican megadonor who is reportedly on the shortlist for Treasury Secretary in a second Trump White House. For much of the primary, the Moderate PAC’s founder, Ty Strong, tried to hide the extent of Yass’ financial support. At one point, Strong insinuated that a sizable portion of the PAC’s money came from two Pittsburgh developers. In reality, Yass’ most recent donation, of $800,000, was 160 times larger.

Lee ran ads of her own blasting Patel for drawing Yass’ support. Patel said she disavowed Yass and his money. But the latest ad he funded echoed one of her central attacks on Lee: that she is not supportive enough of Biden’s agenda. “In this moment,” the voiceover said, “Representative Summer Lee is opposing President Biden.”

Less than two weeks later, the ad got a high-profile debunking. On April 17, Biden appeared at a rally at the United Steelworkers headquarters in Pittsburgh and said, “I want to thank some folks who had my back, and had to stay back in Washington, couldn’t be here today.” First on the list? “Rep. Summer Lee.”