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Democrats buoyed by election returns in Pennsylvania House

Matt Rourke

Democrats in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives are likely to make significant gains in the chamber, and some even see hope they could retake the majority once smoke clears from the Tuesday election, which began with their party 23 seats behind the Republican majority.

Democrats were facing a couple of potential losses in western Pennsylvania and one in Wilkes-Barre, while Republicans were trailing in key races outside Philadelphia and others near Harrisburg, the Poconos and the Pittsburgh area.

Republicans hold the chamber 113-90, so Democrats would need a net pickup of 12 to retake the majority for the first time in 12 years. More favorable district maps and wins by Democrats in high-profile races for governor and U.S. Senate, along with Republican retirements, contributed to the shift.

“Redistricting had an effect, but I mean the biggest thing was having fair districts,” said Trevor Southerland, executive director of the House Democratic Campaign Committee. “Pennsylvania, it’s a purple state and everybody knows that. It’s absurd to think our state House shouldn’t be competitive, and it was very competitive last night."

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With more members in the House, the GOP had more targets to defend, and top Republican leaders and campaign strategists did not appear eager to talk about the results Wednesday.

“We're just waiting to see how these last races shake out,” said Mike Straub, spokesperson for House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster.

Democrats won three House races in Allegheny County districts in which their candidates are not expected to serve. State Rep. Summer Lee was unopposed for another term but was also elected Tuesday to Congress. Rep. Austin Davis won reelection but was also elected lieutenant governor, on the ticket with Attorney General Josh Shapiro. And Rep. Tony Deluca easily won another term a month after his death from cancer.

It will be up to Cutler to schedule special elections to fill those vacancies next year.

Rep. Chris Sainato conceded his race in the Lawrence County district he has represented in Harrisburg for 28 years. Sainato said his opponent won by going after his use of legislative expenses in television ads and direct mail. He was among a dwindling number of rural Democratic lawmakers from western Pennsylvania.

“Demographics have changed in western Pennsylvania,” Sainato said in a phone interview Wednesday. “There was only four of us left when there used to be 20. I usually survive this thing.”