Pittsburgh-area voters will fill three vacancies Tuesday in the state House of Representatives and the results may resolve a stalemate over majority contro l that has left the chamber in limbo for the past month.
If Democrats sweep all three districts, which they also won in November, it will give them a 102-101 majority and will be the first time in 12 years that Republicans have not been able to determine what gets voted on.
Republicans had a 113-90 majority last year, but once-a-decade redistricting and strong performance in statewide races helped Democrats flip just enough seats in the fall election to control the House.
However, three of those seats became vacant after one lawmaker died and two others resigned after winning higher office.
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One reelected House Democrat, Rep. Tony DeLuca, died of cancer in October. Another, Rep. Summer Lee, resigned after also winning a congressional election. And Rep. Austin Davis quit before being sworn in as lieutenant governor.
DeLuca beat a Green Party candidate by 72 points, Davis won against a Republican by 32 points and Lee did not have a fall opponent.
Democratic campaign strategists say they are optimistic about the three special elections because past voting results from the three districts have been favorable to their party and because more of their voters were returning mail-in ballots ahead of election day.
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In DeLuca’s former district, Democrat Joe McAndrew, 32, a business owner, former state House Democratic staffer and the former executive director of Allegheny County’s Democratic committee, is facing off against pastor and Army veteran Clay Walker, 59, a Republican who works as a health care customer service manager.
The candidates for Lee’s seat are Abigail Salisbury, 40, a lawyer and Democratic member of the Swissvale Borough Council, and Republican Robert Pagane, 57, a security guard and former police officer.
Hoping to succeed Davis are Matthew Gergely, a Democrat who works for the McKeesport city government, and Republican Don Nevills, a Navy veteran and businessman who lives in Clairton. Nevills lost to Davis in November.
The House’s Republican floor leader, Rep. Bryan Cutler of Lancaster County, lost a key ruling in a lawsuit he filed that sought to prevent his Democratic counterpart, Rep. Joanna McClinton, from scheduling the Lee and Davis vacancies for February special elections. The two sides agreed that the election for DeLuca’s seat should be on Tuesday, and a court ruled that the other two also take place on the same day.
Once the three Allegheny County vacancies are filled, the House may still be one member short of its full complement. Republicans say Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-Northumberland, won a special election late last month to fill a vacant state Senate seat.