Pennsylvania State Rep. Pam DeLissio, who has represented part of Northwest Philadelphia for the past 12 years, found herself in an unusual situation ahead of Election Day this week.

His challenger in the Democratic primary for the 194th legislative district, Tarik Khan, had amassed a fortune in campaign funds in just six months, including nearly $50,000 in donations from two national political organizations.

Khan, in fact, had nearly 10 times as much money as six-term incumbent DeLissio. His $243,000 in campaign donations raised since November was highly unusual for two reasons: State House candidates rarely raise that kind of money, and incumbents are rarely so outmatched.

DeLissio raised just $28,000 ahead of the May 17 election.

The result was not even close. With 95% of the ballots counted as of May 20, Khan won 59% of the vote to beat DeLissio, drawing 7,058 votes to 4,838 in the district that encompasses the East Falls, Manayunk, Roxborough and Andorra neighborhoods of Philadelphia.

Another Democratic state representative who has known DeLissio her entire State House career called her “the voice of reason” in Harrisburg and said he was surprised she didn’t receive local support from the city ​​Democratic officials or interest groups like the city teachers union. . He was not surprised, however, that such a well-funded challenger beat an incumbent.

“The reality of politics is money that counts. It makes a difference,” said Rep. Greg Vitali, a Democrat who has represented part of Delaware County since 1992. Vitali called DeLissio a friend and said, “It’s really too bad she was defeated.

DeLissio did not respond to NBC10’s interview requests.

Khan, in an interview on Thursday, acknowledged the role his opponent’s mobilization and overspending played in the race, saying the money helped him get his message across to reach voters in person, by mail and through digital platforms.

“Any campaign, to be viable, must raise funds. It’s not something that comes naturally to people. It doesn’t come naturally to me. My father is an immigrant from Pakistan, he never wanted me to ask for money,” Khan said.

Khan said he swallowed his pride and spent three days a week calling friends, family and anyone who might donate. Much of its funding came from political action committees, or PACs.

PAC money was not Khan’s only source of funding – he received many donations from individual contributors and local unions, for example – but they played an important role.

The largest donor was the 314 Action Victory Fund, a PAC dedicated to electing candidates who work in science, technology, engineering and math. The PAC donated $27,500 to Khan’s campaign.

Khan stressed that he does not receive money from “corporate” PACs but from those who act as “advocacy organizations”.

For the 2022 election cycle, 314 Action has donated to nearly 200 municipal and state candidates, Chair Shaughnessy Naughton said. The PAC only donates to Democrats or independents who caucus with Democrats, she added.

“While we raise a lot of money, this is a grassroots entity with literally hundreds of thousands of small donors across the country,” Naughton said.

During the 2018 and 2020 election cycles, 99.4% of contributions to the group were $250 or less, with the average being $31, said organization spokesman Ted Bordelon.

Khan also secured endorsements from the Democratic City of Philadelphia Committee and local 194th District wards. The local Democratic Party did not respond to a request for comment on why it endorsed Khan over a longtime incumbent.


A 21st Ward flyer asks voters to elect Tarik Khan.

But that was only part of the formula. To get people’s votes, he literally did the legwork. Almost daily since October last year, Khan said he has knocked on more than 10,000 doors and visited constituents to introduce himself and hear their concerns.

“I went door to door to get in touch with as many people, as many neighbors as possible,” Khan said. The door-to-door – done between his work as a nurse – allowed Khan to build personal relationships with the people he would ultimately represent, he said.

He said his work as a nurse was what inspired his candidacy, introducing him to patients from different backgrounds with a diversity of needs.

During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Khan said he not only experienced the widespread shortage of personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses, but also saw firsthand the way some people were “left behind”.

“The pandemic has really laid bare the inequalities in our communities,” he said.

To improve some of these inequalities, he set to work.

He volunteered at nursing homes to get tested. When vaccines were in short supply, he took the remaining doses and went to housebound people who wanted to be immunized to give shots before the doses expired.

His 72-year-old mother, Patricia, a fellow nurse who, in a phone call with NBC10, said she always keeps her license up to date to help people, also got to work administering vaccines.

Ultimately, however, Khan said he grew frustrated “that as a nurse I was limited to what I could do for my patients in a clinic alone”. Instead, he wanted to tackle “systemic” issues, which led him to run for office.

During his campaign, Khan presented himself as an unabashed progressive.

He supports a Medicare-for-All model that would provide every person with health insurance, wants a statewide “Green New Deal” that would move Pennsylvania away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy, and s pledge to reject any legislation that would reduce access. to abortions.

“The progressive movement is about people,” Khan said. “It’s about uplifting people and our communities and making sure things get better.” And, he said, there is “absolutely” an appetite for other progressive lawmakers.

Naughton, the chairman of the 314 Action Victory Fund, agreed.

When asked why his organization had contributed so much money to a local campaign, Naughton said it was part of a larger plan to elect more people who believe in science and in the field of science. STEM in municipal and statewide positions.

“A lot of the things that we care about most, whether it’s protecting our environment, education, are controlled at the municipal and national level,” she said.

While she acknowledged there are legitimate criticisms of PACs and the role they play in the electoral process, she said the campaign finance system needs to be changed ‘from within’ ensuring that “the right people” are elected.

But it all starts at the bottom, she says.

“An additional reason why it is important to pay attention to municipal and state offices is not only that they are testing grounds for legislation that can reach the state and federal level, but they are testing also grounds for candidates who may run statewide or federally in the future,” Naughton said.

For all the candidates, issues and important dates voters should know in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, go to NBC10 Decision 2022 page. You’ll find tools to help you navigate the midterm elections, including when to vote and who will be on your ballots in the November primaries and general elections.