With the help of $1 million in campaign cash, Democrat Heather Boyd won Tuesday’s special election in House District 163 defeating Republican Katie Ford.
This leaves Democrats in control of the House after the resignation of Democratic Rep. Mike Zabel — forced from his seat by allegations of sexual assault — left the party’s majority in the chamber in doubt.
Unofficial election numbers as of Wednesday morning showed Boyd with 60 percent of the vote compared to Ford’s 38 percent. Libertarian Alfe Goodwin pulled down about 1.2 percent.
“This election has been about all of you in this room and countless others who aren’t here today who cared enough and believed enough and worked hard enough to make the difference,” Boyd told supporters at a post-election party.
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In a statement, Ford said, “At the end of the day, I ran a campaign with honesty and integrity, and that is more important than winning.” On Facebook, Ford wrote that she “knew [the race] would be an uphill battle.”
“I wanted to represent the incredible community we have here,” she said. “Unfortunately, we fell short and my opponent has won.”
The race became a major front for state Democrats over the past several months, with the party pouring around $1 million into the district to help shore up Boyd’s chances. Republicans, in contrast, spent around $150,000 backing Ford.
On the eve of the election, President Joe Biden swooped in to offer Heather Boyd a boost. “With control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on the line, this race will determine the future of so many fundamental freedoms Pennsylvanians hold dear,” Biden told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“Heather is an experienced public servant who will protect a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions, stand up for common sense gun safety laws, and expand access to voting rights,” he said.
Berwood Yost, the director of the Center for Opinion Research and the Floyd Institute for Public Policy at Franklin and Marshall College, told DVJournal these kinds of endorsements of state candidates have become “more common” in recent years.
“Barack Obama has endorsed many state legislative candidates the past few years,” he said. “Since a loss in this race would flip control of the state house, I’m not at all surprised Biden provided his endorsement.”
Republicans tapped Ford for the slot in March of this year. A lifelong Upper Darby resident, she was trained as a combat medic and served in the U.S. Army for eight years.
Ford had touted her status as a political outsider.
“I’m not a politician and never have been,” she said this month. “What I am is a regular citizen tired of the politicians failing us and ready to step up and make a difference on crime, on inflation, on schools and education, and on helping real people.”
At the end of the day, I ran a campaign with honesty and integrity, and that is more important than winning.
Heather Boyd, on the other hand, has a well-established career in Democratic politics. The Upper Darby Democratic Committee chair, Boyd formerly worked for Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon and was chief of staff for Delaware County state Rep. Leanne Krueger. She also served on the Upper Darby School Board from 2015–2018.
The race was kicked off earlier this year after Zabel resigned the seat in March amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment from female colleagues. At times, his alleged behavior was used as a line of attack from the Ford campaign.
Democrats “[chose] as my opponent the political boss who enabled Mr. Zabel’s reelection, even though news reports show she knew what was happening,” Ford claimed in March. Earlier this month, she took a thinly veiled swipe at Boyd when she argued: “If someone comes to you and says they’re being sexually harassed, you do something about it. You don’t just let it go. And you don’t continue to endorse someone. You don’t continue to champion for them.”
Heather Boyd, on the other hand, contended that she had worked to “change the rules to protect all women” in the state government.
“As a woman who has worked in Harrisburg, I’ve witnessed sexual harassment. I’ve experienced sexual harassment,” she said.
The significance of the race, and the control of the state House, was not lost on Democrats from Biden on downward.
“The control of the House is at stake, so we are not taking anything for granted,” Democratic Rep. Leanne Krueger told the Inquirer this month. Gov. Josh Shapiro filmed a TV ad for Boyd, focusing on abortion rights. That ad, along with another abortion rights spot and one that hit Ford on her family’s finances, ran continuously in the leadup to the election.
And Delaware County Democratic Chair Colleen Guiney told media earlier this year: “The House majority runs through Delaware County in May.”
On Tuesday, it did just that.
Daniel Payne is the editor of InsideSources.
This article was republished with permission from the Delaware Valley Journal.