State Rep. Margo Davidson escaped with a close victory in the Democratic primary for the 164th Legislative District Tuesday, edging her challengers with about 52 percent of the vote.
Davidson, a two-term incumbent, received 2,675 votes, according to unofficial tallies released by the Delaware County Election Bureau. Smith, an attorney, garnered 2,143 votes. Adjunct professor Dafan Zhang received 241 votes.
Four machines from Upper Darby had not reported by press time.
Davidson’s victory margin was the smallest for an incumbent state legislator representing Delaware County since 1990, when former state Rep. Steve Freind narrowly defeated Ellen Fisher in the Republican primary for the 166th Legislative District. A Delco incumbent has not lost in a state Legislature primary since some time before 1980.
Davidson thanked her constituents for their confidence in her, saying the campaign was one of the most vicious in the county’s history.
“I’m just really, really happy,” Davidson said. “I just want to thank the people of my district for vindication and for returning me to the House for a third term.”
Davidson will advance to face Republican Saud Siddiqui in the general election, though many Democrats considered the Democratic primary to be the determining race. Redistricting made the 164th District a Democratic stronghold — registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than a 3-to-1 ratio.
“I’m really going to be focused on increasing the Democratic numbers in the House and in the Senate and evicting Tom Corbett from the Governor’s mansion,” Davidson said. “That is going to be my prime focus.”
Smith gained a substantial majority in Lansdowne — his hometown — but those gains were not enough to trump Davidson’s heavy support in Upper Darby. Davidson took her home township by a 3-to-1 voting margin while also winning majorities in East Lansdowne, Millbourne and Yeadon.
Zhang, of East Lansdowne, finished third in each municipality.
“Taking on an incumbent is always a great challenge, and I will forever be proud of the strong grassroots support of my campaign,” Smith said in a statement released by his campaign. “This year, we gave Democratic voters a real choice — an all too rare and precious thing in our democracy.
“The contrast between the incumbent and me could not have been starker and I am proud to have fought hard for the right of every child to a free, quality education; the freedom for all women to make their own health care decisions; family-sustaining wages for all who work; and respect and equality for all Americans.
“We did not win the day, but we made it a real race. It is my hope that our incumbent representative heard us and will make a change in how she represents the 164th District.”
Smith challenged whether Davidson was liberal enough to represent the newly redrawn district, which added Lansdowne and parts of Yeadon. He criticized her for supporting school vouchers and voting to toughen safety restrictions on abortion clinics.
“The people in my district — particularly the current part of my district — they were well aware of what my voting record was,” said Davidson, who identifies as pro-choice. “I announced it in newsletters. It was not hidden. It was well publicized. They returned me to the Jouse.”
The race was hotly contested from the moment Smith announced his candidacy in November. Davidson earned the endorsement of the Delaware County Democratic Party in February, but committee members nearly voted to hold an open primary. The vote failed, 29-24.
Smith, 39, raised $127,730 in campaign funds, including $90,370 after Jan. 1. The Pennsylvania State Education Association donated $40,000 to his campaign and Planned Parenthood contributed $13,430. Smith racked up endorsements from several organizations that typically support liberals, including the PSEA, Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women.
Davidson, 51, accumulated $83,185 after Jan. 1, adding to the $17,161 already in her campaign coffers. Students First contributed $22,500 and Parents and Teachers for Putting Students First donated another $10,900. Both political action committees support vouchers.
Davidson earned the backing of various unions, including Teamsters Local 830, United Steelworkers Local 10-1 and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776.
Both Smith and Davidson used their funding to engage in a battle of mailers that grew negative as the election neared. Smith issued a mailer claiming Davidson “gutted” public education alongside Gov. Tom Corbett. Davidson answered with a mailer accusing Smith of running a smear campaign.
“The lies and distortions in this campaign were outrageous but nonetheless the people in my district spotted a phony when they saw him,” Davidson said. “I just love the people in my district for that.”
The Smith campaign did not immediately respond to Davidson’s remark.
Zhang, 37, opted to run a minimalist campaign that focused solely on his attributes. A Chinese immigrant, Zhang overcame homelessness to own a pair of small businesses and graduate last week from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
He raised $2,260 and did not announce any endorsements, saying he did not want to owe favors to anyone but the voters.
Zhang did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday night.
Voter turnout was low despite the competitiveness of the race and a Democratic gubernatorial election topping the ballot. Only 20 percent of the district’s 25,043 registered Democrats voted, though that figure was higher than the county rate.
Siddiqui, the chief operating officer of the Upper Darby Caring Foundation, ran uncontested in the Republican primary for the 164th District. He received 1,016 votes.
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