Midterm Mania: Democrats make gains in PA state house

Raymond Arke | Editor-in-Chief

11/08/18

While much of the country watched national races for U.S. House and Senate seats, Pennsylvania Democrats and Republicans battled it out for control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and the state Senate in Harrisburg. While Republicans held both houses, Democrats made gains in each.

For the Pennsylvania House, there were 203 races across the commonwealth on Nov. 6. Before the election, Republicans held a 121 to 82 person advantage in the chamber. That lead shrunk by the morning of Nov. 7, as Democrats picked up 11 seats, with the possibility of adding more.

“We could add two more depending on some recounts,” said Frank Burdell, political director of the Pennsylvania House Democratic Campaign Committee.

One of the recounts he mentioned, Pennsylvania House District 49 is in the Pittsburgh region. Located just north of Uniontown and encompassing California, the district has been held by Representative Bud Cook (R) since 2017. According to unofficial returns from the Pennsylvania Department of State, Cook holds a lead of just 109 votes over his opponent, Matthew Toprani (D).

Burdell said he was happy with the 11 seat pick-up, growing the number of Democrats in the state house to 93, and that it “met expectations,” without there being any big surprises.

“We’re extremely proud of our new [Democratic] class,” he said. “We’re simply so pleased with the outcome.”

A Duquesne graduate, Brandon Markosek (D) won handily in his race to replace his father’s state House seat in Pennsylvania House District 25. According to the Pennsylvania Department of State’s unofficial returns, Markosek won with 57.6 percent of the vote. The district contains Monroeville, East McKeesport, East Pittsburgh and parts of other nearby localities.

Much of the immediate Pittsburgh area consisted of solidly Democratic seats, some of which had no Republican challengers.

Duquesne’s campus is part of Pennsylvania House District 19. Representative Jake Wheatley (D) was re-elected to represent the 19th in an uncontested election. Other local races were similarly uncontested, according to the unofficial returns. In District 20, which includes the Strip District and sections of the North Hills, Adam Ravenstahl (D) was re-elected with no opponent.

Sara Innamorato (D), a self-described democratic socialist, won uncontested in District 21, which contains Bloomfield, Reserve Township, parts of Ross Township and other neighboring locations. Innamorato had won a surprising primary victory over long-time incumbent Dom Costa (D). Like Innamorato, Summer Lee (D), also a self-described democratic socialist, won her uncontested election in District 34, according to the unofficial returns.

Unofficial returns showed that Edward Gainey (D) also won his reelection uncontested in District 24, made up of Highland Park and Wilkinsburg. Mount Washington, McKees Rocks and other municipalities that make up District 27 will continue to be represented by Daniel Deasy (D), who had an uncontested victory. In Pennsylvania House District 23, made up of much of Oakland and Squirrel Hill, incumbent Dan Frankel (D) beat Green Party challenger Jay Walker by capturing 90 percent of the vote, according to the unofficial returns.

One of the few local Republican-held districts, District 28, is home to Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R). Turzai was comfortably re-elected with 54 percent of the vote over Democratic challenger Emily Skopov, according to the unofficial returns. Another Republican victory occured south of Pittsburgh in District 39, which had formerly been represented by Rick Saccone before his unsuccessful race against Conor Lamb (D) for a U.S. House seat. Michael Puskaric (R) captured 55 percent of the vote, defeating Robert Rhoderick (D) in the 39th, according to unofficial returns.

On the state Senate side, there were considerably fewer elections with just 25 races across the commonwealth. There are 50 total seats, with half being up for election every four years, according to Ballotpedia.

One of the closest and most-watched races occurred in the Pittsburgh region. State Senate District 38, consisting of Ross Township, McCandless Township, Fox Chapel and other parts of other local areas, was decided in the early morning of Nov. 7. Lindsey Williams (D) narrowly beat her Republican opponent Jeremy Shaffer by just over 500 votes, according to unofficial returns.

Pennsylvania Sen. Wayne Fontana (D), who represents Pittsburgh, and Duquesne’s campus, was uncontested in his re-election for state Senate District 42. One of the only other local state Senate races was for District 46 in parts of Butler, Greene and Washington counties and was a victory for Republicans. Camera Bartolotta (R) won the 42nd handily with 58.9 percent of the vote, according to unofficial returns. Bartolotta will replace Guy Reschenthaler (R), who had left his state seat to successfully seek election to the U.S. House in Congressional District 14.

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