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Republicans play defense in state House, slip in state Senate

By   /   November 7, 2012  /   No Comments

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

THEY HAVE SPOKEN: Voters in Pennsylvania lined up to have their say Tuesday at the ballot box. (AP photo)

HARRISBURG — Both Democrats and Republicans can claim victory in the results of Tuesday’s General Assembly election.

Democrats won their biggest share of the state Senate in nearly 20 years while Republicans kept their majority in that chamber and successfully defended about a dozen state House seats to keep a wide majority in the lower chamber.

With two House races still too close to call on Wednesday, the Republicans held a 27-23 majority in the state Senate and a 109-92 edge in the state House.

In the state Senate, Democrats took advantage of the combination of several Republican retirements and a failure of the GOP-drawn redistricting maps to win three new seats in the 50-seat chamber.

When the new session begins in January, Republicans will have a 27-23 majority in Senate, the narrowest margin since 1994. The Democrats have not had more than 21 seats in the chamber since that year.

Senate Majority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, said his caucus would use their increased power in state government to push for more investments in education, in the social safety net and for transportation infrastructure funding.

“Today, we stand in a better place than we were in terms of our ability to articulate our message and the message of the people of Pennsylvania,” Costa said.

Republicans unsuccessfully tried to defend the seats held by retiring state Sens. Jeff Piccola, R-Dauphin, Jane Earll, R-Erie, and John Pippy, R-Allegheny.

In the former Piccola seat, Democrat Rob Teplitz won 51 percent of the vote compared to 48 percent for Republican John McNally.

Democrat Sean Wiley cruised to victory with more than 60 percent of the vote against Republican Janet Anderson in Earll’s former seat.

And in Pippy’s former district, Democrat Matt Smith won more than 52 percent of the vote to beat Republican D. Raja, who garnered 47 percent.

Even as Republicans got shellacked at the top of the ticket on Tuesday night — they lost all five statewide races in addition to the losses in the state Senate — state party chairman Rob Gleason singled out House GOP leaders for congratulations in a statement after the results were final on early Wednesday morning.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said the results meant the GOP control of state government could move forward with their agenda.

“The governor is a Republican, the Senate is still Republican, and we think there is a lot of consensus on moving positive issues forward,” Turzai said.

Two state House races remained too close to call on Wednesday afternoon.

In the 39th District, state Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Allegheny, leads Dave Levdansky by less than than 50 votes, with some provisional and absentee ballots remaining to be counted.

The race was a rematch of 2010, when Saccone knocked off Levdansky, a state representative since 1985, by a mere 151 votes.  This year’s contest appears to be even closer.

In the 163th District, state Rep. Nick Miccozzie was leading Democratic challenger Sheamus Bonner by lesst than 100 votes with some provisional and absentee ballots still outstanding.

If Saccone and Miccozzie survive their close calls, Republicans will have a net gain of one seat  and will enter January with a 112-91 advantage, equal to their lead when the previous session began in January 2010.

Republican Thomas Sankey defeated Democrat Mark McCracken by more than 20 points to score the only GOP pick-up of the night.  They were battling to replace retiring state Rep. Bud George, D-Clearfield.

The Republicans essentially began the night with a 111-92 advantage in the House, though there were three vacancies (the incumbent party held all three of them with ease).

The Republicans’ most impressive defensive showing was in the Philadelphia suburbs, where they successfully defended several lawmakers — including Dan Truitt, R-Chester, Warren Kampf, R-Chester, Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, and Joe Hackett, R-Delaware, all of whom won in 2010 as part of the Republican takeover but appeared vulnerable in a presidential year when Democrats carried the counties around Philadelphia in the statewide races.

With new Republican-drawn redistricting maps set to tentatively take effect in 2014, the GOP seems poised to control the state House for the foreseeable future.

The biggest surprise of the night was in Pottstown, where four-term state Rep. Tom Quigley, R-Montgomery, was unseated by Democratic challenger Mark Painter.

Painter is the first Democrat elected in the district since the current 203-seat House was created in 1969.

State Rep. John Taylor, R-Philadelphia, won re-election and will continue to be the only Republican member of the General Assembly from Pennsylvania’s largest city.

Contact Boehm at [email protected] and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for breaking news.