Biden endorses Democrat in special election with Pennsylvania House control at stake

US President Joe Biden speaks during an event at SUNY Westchester Community College in Valhalla, New York, US, on Wednesday, May 10, 2023. Biden and congressional Republicans made little tangible progress Tuesday toward averting a first-ever US defau

A Democrat running for a vacant seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives received President Joe Biden's endorsement Monday in a race likely to determine control of the legislative chamber, with implications for abortion rights, the 2024 presidential contest and Gov. Josh Shapiro's agenda.

Biden cited the majority House stakes and referred to abortion rights in backing Heather Boyd in a special election against Republican Katie Ford in suburban Philadelphia's Delaware County.

Biden's statement said the outcome of Tuesday's vote will "determine the future of so many fundamental freedoms that Pennsylvanians hold dear" and called Boyd "an experienced public servant who will protect a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions, stand up for common sense gun safety laws and expand access to voting rights."

Boyd and Ford are seeking to replace Rep. Mike Zabel, a Democrat who resigned in March after a labor lobbyist accused him sexually harassing her. Ford is a military veteran, school volunteer and behavioral therapist; Boyd is a former congressional and state legislative aide.

Ford campaign chair Jamie Santora, a Republican who held the House seat until 2018, said Monday that the Biden endorsement indicates Democrats are worried the contest is close.

A campaign statement provided by Santora said Biden "just endorsed a person who covered up a sexual harassment scandal for four years. This is just another one of his failures that is destroying this country."

After 12 years with majority Republican control of the House, Democrats flipped a net of 12 seats in November, then held the one-vote majority by sweeping three special elections in February. There is a second vacancy being filled in Tuesday's voting, a Republican-majority district in central Pennsylvania that is not expected to change hands.

Not counting the two open seats, Democrats have a 101-100 House majority, so a Ford victory would likely give Republicans enough votes to restore one of their own to the speakership and control the House voting calendar and agenda. The state Senate has a Republican majority.

Pennsylvania is a swing state, but the great majority of House Republicans hold conservative positions on social issues, election law and government spending. Democrats losing the chamber would make it more difficult for Shapiro, a Democrat in his first year, to pursue his agenda just as intensive negotiations get underway ahead of the June 30 state budget deadline.

Boyd has focused much of her campaign on her support for abortion rights, a critical issue in the House, as Republicans are one House floor vote away from putting before voters a referendum that would say the Pennsylvania Constitution does not guarantee any rights relating to abortion or public funding of abortions. Proposed constitutional amendments do not require a governor's signature and cannot be vetoed.

Ford has said she is personally against abortion but does not want to change state law and would vote against advancing the referendum. She has criticized Boyd for not doing more after learning of the sexual harassment allegations against Zabel. Boyd has said she honored the lobbyist's request for confidentiality and has been endorsed by her.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee said Biden makes most of his endorsements in statewide and federal elections but does sometimes endorse legislative candidates. Biden's most recent endorsement in a Pennsylvania special election for the Legislature was Democrat Marty Flynn in his successful state Senate race two years ago.