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Democrat Powell has big financial lead over GOP's Autenreith in 21st state House special election

Matt Rourke

Democrat Lindsay Powell has a sizable financial advantage over Republican Erin Connolly Autenreith going into a special election next week that will determine control of the state House of Representatives.

In a truncated special election to replace Sara Innamorato in the 21st House District, Powell raised $52,723.78 between late July and last Monday. That’s several times as much as Autenreith’s $6,031.57, and the margin may well have grown since then: Powell filed a supplemental finance report documenting an additional $10,000 contribution received from a state teachers’ union committee after the reports were filed.

Powell’s other big supporters include a Philadelphia-based committee that supports progressive female candidates that gave $5,000, and a political committee tied to Dan Gilman, who like Powell served in the administration of former Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. Gilman’s committee gave her $3,000.

She also received support from committees tied to local Democrats: state House member Nick Pisciottano, who heads the county’s Democratic delegation, state Rep. Jessica Benham, and state Senator Jay Costa, who leads Democrats in the upper chamber.

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Several unions also made donations by the filing deadline, including $1,500 each from an electrical workers local, a committee representing operating engineers, and a Laborers union local.

Autenreith's fundraising efforts got underway about two weeks after Powell's, records show. Nearly half of Autenreith’s support came from a pair of $1,500 donations from the Republican Committee of Allegheny County. Another $500 was contributed by the political committee of Lori Mizgorski, a former Republican state representative whose district once included part of the 21st.

Autenreith has reported spending $5,496.66 on her campaign so far, all of which has been spent on a campaign mailer and yard signs. That left her with just $534.91 at the beginning of last week. Powell, by contrast, still had $22,514.55 on hand with slightly more than a week to go in the campaign, not including the teachers union contribution or any others that might come in.

Powell has spent $30,209.23, much of which has paid for consultants or been donated to the campaign committee for House Democrats, which frequently directs the money to support candidates with mailers and other outreach.

The 21st district is a solidly blue swath of suburbs just north of Pittsburgh, including Etna, Millvale, Reserve, and Shaler, as well as portions of Pittsburgh itself. Ordinarily, there’d be little suspense about the outcome of this election, but with control of the state House divided 101 to 101, Democrats are hoping a win will restore them to the bare majority they’ve enjoyed for the past few months.

Powell serves on the board of the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority and works for the nonprofit InnovatePGH. In addition to her work for the Peduto administration, she’s been a staffer for national Democrats Hakeem Jeffries and Chuck Schumer. If elected, she would be the first Black woman to represent the district.

Autenreith chairs the Republican committee in her hometown of Shaler and is by her own account “a very middle-of-the-road” candidate — despite having been in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6 (though she says she did not take part in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol) and having a long-held skepticism of vaccines.

Despite the strong differences between the two, the race has drawn little outside attention, no doubt in part due to the tight timeframe: Democrats scheduled the election as fast as legally possible after Innamorato’s resignation in mid-July, in a bid to assure that they can remain in control of the House shortly after it returns from its summer recess later this month. Innamorato resigned from the seat to focus on her bid to become the next Allegheny County executive after winning the Democratic primary in that race.

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.