U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans; challenger Alexandra Hunt

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Despite waging a campaign that caught national media attention, political newcomer Alexandra Hunt fell to incumbent U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans in the race to be the Democratic nominee for Pennsylvania’s 3rd Congressional District, which represents West Philadelphia, North Philadelphia, and parts of Center City in Congress.

Per the Associated Press, Evans won handily with over 78% of the vote. Hunt secured 18% of the vote, while candidate Michael Cogbill rounded out the results with 4%.

This year’s race had no Republican challenger, so the primary’s winner goes straight on to the House of Representatives in January.

“Your trust ​​and belief in the work I’m doing in the D.C helps push me forward, and I’m thankful for this movement we’re building each and every day,” Evans told voters, in a victory statement sent to Billy Penn.

Evans began representing the 3rd District in 2016, replacing incumbent Chaka Fattah (who was eventually convicted of bribery and racketeering). Evans spent 35 years in the Pennsylvania House, where he represented the neighborhoods of West Oak Lane, Olney, and Crestville in the 203rd District. He also ran for mayor of Philadelphia twice, unsuccessfully.

During his first congressional term, Evans focused on supporting small business and criminal justice reform, most notably helping pass the First Step Act that eases mandatory minimum sentences and increases earlier releases.

Across his time in federal government, Evans has advocated for increased healthcare accessibility but ultimately did not back 2019’s Medicaid for All Act in the House, which would’ve instituted free primary care, prescription, and hospital visit coverage for all within two years time. For some in his district, like Hunt, this became a sticking point as Hahnemann Hospital closed, and the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted Black, working class communities in Philadelphia.

Evans faced challenges from two self-proclaimed progressive challengers: Alexandra Hunt and Michael Cogbill, a labor organizer and nephew of City Councilmember Cindy Bass.

Hunt, who worked as a public health researcher prior to running for Congress, said the “lack of crisis response and resources from the government” during the onset of the pandemic is what inspired her to run.

“The priorities of Congress really center corporations, which doesn’t favor getting resources into the hands and pockets of everyday people and their family,” Hunt told Billy Penn ahead of Tuesday’s results. “I come into the political space as a reluctant participant … but I know that in order to change [the system] we have to get involved to push it in other directions.”

Hunt’s platform championed Medicaid for All, the Green New Deal, and a slew of interwoven reforms from eliminating cash bail and providing reparations for families impacted by the War on Drugs to a wealth tax and increased funding for low-income school districts.

A former stripper, Hunt has been outspoken about decriminalizing sex work and her past in the industry. Case in point: She became the first political candidate to fundraise on OnlyFans and has a line of campaign merch emblazoned with the catchphrase “Elect Hoes” — both nods to online hate.

Drawing on his background as the first Black political director of Philly’s AFL-CIO and a former organizer with anti-violence group CeaseFirePA, Cogbill’s platform centered on stricter gun regulations, advancing the Green New Deal, and expanding Social Security benefits for senior citizens.

Mistaking false results for a lead

On Monday — the day before the election — Hunt’s campaign tweeted out testing data that showed her in the lead as though it were actual elections results. Votes are not tallied until polls close on Tuesday.

“Not a single vote in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has been counted yet. Hunt is just wrong,” wrote election lawyer Adam Bonin, who represents Democrats.

Bonin also noted that Hunt could’ve flouted Federal Election Comississions finance laws by cutting herself a check two months before qualifying for the ballot and paying herself more than she made the year before, when she wasn’t running for office.

For candidates who elect to receive a salary, “it must not exceed the lesser of the minimum annual salary for the office sought.” Hunt campaign’s appeared to pay her $6,500 a month beginning on February 1.

Hunt said the false data came from an excited supporter and that her team worked to verify the results before tweeting them to the public, but never saw any indication that it was related to a test.

“We assumed it was a leak that shouldn’t have happened and that someone was going to get in trouble with the City Commissioner’s office, but that’s not our problem,” Hunt told Billy Penn on Tuesday night.

As for the allegations she violated campaign finance law, she vehemently denies them. “I did not overpay myself,” said Hunt.

Though Evans had a strong lead from the start, the atmosphere at Hunt’s campaign watch party at the Wiss Bar & Bistro in Manayunk was celebratory, drawing a small crowd of volunteers and voters. Nostalgic hip-hop, ranging from Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” to Usher’s “Daddy’s Home,” blasted from the speakers, and a range of hot wings were on the menu.

A candidacy that destigmatized sex work

Hunt maintained her campaign was about quite a bit more than ousting an incumbent — for her, it was about redefining who believes they can be in government.

“Regardless of the outcome on Election Day, we are giving power to people who have controversial paths. I can’t tell you the number of people who have come up to me and said they feel inspired to live their full truth,” Hunt said. “Folks who have a record feel empowered that they could potentially participate in the system and run and be a good candidate.”

Aaron Rosenbaum, a Democratic voter from Logan Square, echoed that sentiment. He turned out for Hunt because he had a personal connection to her story, and was excited that she exemplified a new path toward politics.

“I think it’s really refreshing to have a candidate who, instead of apologizing for being a stripper in the past, embraced it,” he told Billy Penn.

Still, her campaign broke with the traditional Democratic establishment talking points — a characteristic she told Billy Penn she was proud of.

“I was not expecting the establishment to support my candidacy,” Hunt said, who’s platform advances a few new ideas in the district: canceling medical debt, insurances of environmentally-friendly public housing, and a Digital New Deal that includes universal broadband and long-term net neutrality.

In a statement sent to Billy Penn, senior political advisor Michael Dineen did not acknowledge whether any of Evans’ campaign platforms were influenced by those of his challengers.

“The 3rd Congressional District belongs to the people who live in it. We’ve worked this campaign like one long job interview and the voters decide who is hired,” wrote Dineen in an email to Billy Penn.

Within the district, Dineen identified gun violence as among the “most pressing issue constituents bring up” to Evans. Community safety concerns continue to mount for Philadelphia residents as 2022 has claimed over 740 shooting victims and city gun violence briefings that experts say ignore grassroots anti-violence initiatives.

Evans announced in April what he touted as a $51 billion plan to tackle gun violence nationwide, with provisions that would pay for neighborhood blight reduction, fund workforce development, and support police efforts to improve clearance rates for shootings. Meanwhile, Hunt’s platform lists efforts to ban unserialized ghost guns and prohibit known stalkers or domestic abusers from owning firearms as among campaign priorities.

Despite the results of the race, some Hunt supporters are already looking toward future elections — and optimistic that she’ll win other races (if she wants to run again, of course).

“I think it’s really difficult to defeat someone who’s been in politics for 30 years. For every Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, there’s people who have to run two or three times to win,” Rosenbaum said. “I’m hoping Alexandra will run again.”