PA GOP loses governor’s race, but rides wave to big majorities in House and Senate
By PA Independent staff
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett might have been left standing on the beach with no surfboard as Republicans caught a wave of electoral enthusiasm Tuesday, but the rest of Pennsylvania’s GOP celebrated an otherwise dominating day at the polls.
The state Senate GOP expanded its existing majority to 30 members in the 50-person chamber, while state House Republicans also increased their ranks to 119 members, a 35-person advantage over Democrats and the largest House majority since the 1957-58 session.
While Democrat Tom Wolf made history when he unseated Corbett — the only incumbent governor to lose a re-election bid since second terms have been allowed — his agenda could face roadblocks in the General Assembly because of Tuesday’s GOP romp.
REPUBLICAN WAVE WASHES OVER GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Republican Gov. Tom Corbett might have lost, but the GOP strengthened its lead in both the state House and Senate as Republican legislative candidates romped over Democratic challengers.
It made for compelling election night drama, and with the ballots cast and the votes counted, PA Independent takes a look at some of the notable races, some of which we’ve touched upon in past coverage:
Diamond survives October surprise
An October surprise didn’t make for Russ Diamond’s demise on Election Day.
The Republican prevailed in a four-person race for the 102nd House District despite bizarre videos that surfaced heading into the final week of the campaign. The videos showed Diamond muttering “every cop is a pig and a liar.” The woman filming the state House hopeful also held up her wrist in one video and insinuated Diamond had grabbed her, leaving marks on her arm.
Diamond said the video was heavily edited, misleading and recorded without his knowledge or consent. He said he grabbed the woman, who he identified as an ex-girlfriend, only after she had assaulted him by grabbing his genitalia.
Republicans lose incumbent, but not their seat
Thanks to an odd primary election, Republicans had no chance to lose their 81st House District seat in rural central Pennsylvania, even if sitting state Rep. Mike Fleck couldn’t pull off a win Tuesday.
Fleck, the state’s first openly gay lawmaker, did lose, but to fellow Republican Richard Irvin.
The Republican-vs.-Republican General Election traces back to the primary, when Irvin won the GOP nomination in a write-in campaign. Fleck survived the primary, too, after Democratic voters made him their nominee through write-in votes of their own. He remained a Republican and said he would continue caucusing with his party if elected.
That didn’t happen, making Fleck the only Republican incumbent to lose Tuesday. Still, the party will keep the seat.
In addition to Fleck, three Democratic incumbents in the House fell Tuesday night, but state Rep. Mark Painter’s loss included an interesting wrinkle.
Painter was ousted by Republican Tom Quigley, who had held the 146th House District seat before Painter toppled him in 2012. Not only did the GOP win back the seat, it has an experienced hand at the helm, too.
White toppled year after using online alias
In the 46th House District, incumbent Jesse White, D-Washington, was outmaneuvered by Republican challenger Jason Ortitay, losing by 12 percent.
White was dogged by his scandal of last year, when he was caught using online aliases to disparage people — some even from his district — that didn’t agree with his positions. In the end, he blamed negative campaigning for his loss: “Basically, the people are going to get what they ask for.”
You can watch White’s defiant concession speech here.
Harhai survives tight race
In the 58th District, incumbent Democratic state Rep. Ted Harhai survived the Republican wave, winning his 10th term in a squeaker of a race against Republican challenger Thomas Logan. Harhai won by less than 2 percent, a mere 287 votes.
The GOP had been hopeful for a pickup here, because the district is trending Republican. In 2012, Mitt Romney won the district by 56 percent.
Kaufer picks up Luzerne County seat for GOP
As a 24-year-old political newcomer, Aaron Kaufer, couldn’t beat longtime state Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Luzerne, for the 120th District seat in the 2012 general election.
Just two years made a huge difference for the Republican. Kaufer might not have taken down Mundy, but he did beat the retiring lawmaker’s legislative assistant, Eileen Cipriani, to claim an open seat for the GOP on Tuesday night.
Mundy had held the seat for 12 terms, but her impending retirement gave Kaufer the chance for an election night surprise.
Pashinski survives Libertarian challenge
Some politicos in Luzerne County were also watching for an even bigger surprise Tuesday night — a win for Libertarian state House candidate Betsy Summers, who gave state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, a spirited run while raising no funds.
The longshot upset didn’t materialize, but Summers picked up 32 percent of the vote, a respectable number for a third-party candidate running against an entrenched incumbent.
And along the lines of moral victories, Summers snagged an endorsement from one local newspaper, The Times-Leader, after Pashinski “stunned” the editorial staff when he revealed that, as a Democratic lawmaker, he had stopped introducing legislation.
Noted activist still on outside looking in
Pignelope will have to stay outside the state capitol.
Citizen activist and perennial candidate Gene Stilp, perhaps best known for bringing am aptly named giant inflatable pig to events calling for reform in Harrisburg, fell short in his latest attempt to unseat incumbent state Rep. Susan Helm, R-Dauphin, in the 104th Legislative District.
Stilp gave Helm a close call in 2010, but Helm also rode a wave of Republican enthusiasm past her Democratic challenge. She won this one handily, meaning Stilp will have to keep fighting for reform from the outside.
Solobay upset as Republicans pick up western PA seats
Republican candidates won three key Senate seats in western Pennsylvania, helping to solidify GOP control of the chamber.
The 32nd Senate District was an open seat after the retirement of Rich Kasunic. As previously reported by Watchdog.org, the candidates raised a boatload of money — $2.5 million or so — for the race in this mostly rural district.
Though Democrats held the seat for the past 67 years, Republican Patrick Stefano has presumably beaten Democrat Deberah Kula. As of 11 a.m. Wednesday, 98 percent of the districts had reported, with Stefano having a nearly 15 percent lead, or 14,000 votes.
In another upset, Republican Camera Bartolotta ousted Democratic incumbent Tim Solobay in the 46th Senate District. She won by a 6.5 percent margin.
And in the 50th District, Republican Michele Brooks won handily, defeating Democrat Michael Muha by 25 percent. The seat was open because of the retirement of Republican Sen. Bob Robbins. Brooks will be the first woman ever to represent the 50th Senate District.
Scavello rides experience to win in new district
There was no incumbent in the newly created 40th Senate District in Monroe and Northampton counties, but Mario Scavello performed like one.
The veteran Republican state representative from Monroe County bested Democratic challenger Mark Aurand on Tuesday in a race that was key to the GOP maintaining control of the chamber.
The race was heated, with Aurand attacking Scavello’s shifting stances on women’s health issues. In the end, that didn’t stop Scavello, who practically had the power of incumbency thanks to the 12 years he spent in the House.
McGarrigle, Tomlinson win key southeastern PA seats
Democrats sensed opportunity when Republican state Sen. Ted Erickson announced he was retiring at the end of his term.
Delaware County Council Chairman Tom McGarrigle closed that door, edging out Democratic candidate and local union official John Kane for the open seat.
In another closely watched southeastern Pennsylvania race, state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, R-Bucks, also fended off his Democratic challenger, Kimberly Yeager-Rose.
Both were important seats for Democrats to win if they had any hope of taking control of the Senate. But at the end of the night, the Republican wave pushed Tomlinson back into his seat and McGarrigle into higher office.