3 Special Elections Will Determine Control of the Pennsylvania House

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For a month, the Pennsylvania legislature has been frozen by a handful of vacancies in the State House of Representatives that made the difference between Democratic and Republican control, and by representatives’ inability to agree on basic operating rules.

Special elections on Tuesday could bring the General Assembly back to life.

Those elections will fill three vacant House seats in Allegheny County — home to Pittsburgh — where Democratic candidates won in November but either did not take office or quickly stepped down. In the 32nd District, the winner, Tony DeLuca, died shortly before Election Day but too late to have his name removed from the ballot. The 34th District’s representative, Summer Lee, was elected to the United States House, and the 35th District’s representative, Austin Davis, was elected as lieutenant governor.

If Democrats sweep the special elections, as is expected given that all three districts are heavily blue, they will secure the narrowest of majorities in the Pennsylvania House, 102 seats to 101, after 12 years of Republican control. If Republicans win any of the three races, they will have a thin majority.

  • In the 32nd District, the candidates are Joe McAndrew, a former executive director of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, and Clayton Walker, a Republican pastor. The district is overwhelmingly Democratic; there was no Republican candidate last year, and, even in death, Mr. DeLuca won 86 percent of the vote over a Green Party candidate.

  • In the 34th District, Abigail Salisbury, a Democratic lawyer who ran unsuccessfully against Ms. Lee in the State House primary last year, is her party’s candidate against Robert Pagane, a Republican security guard and former police officer. Ms. Lee was uncontested in the general election in November.

  • In the 35th District, Matt Gergely, a Democrat who is the chief revenue officer of McKeesport, Pa., is facing Don Nevills, a Republican small-business man and Navy veteran. Mr. Nevills received only 34 percent of the vote against Mr. Davis in November.

Democrats in Pennsylvania control the governorship but are in the minority in the State Senate. Winning all three races, and thus a House majority, would allow them to block legislation that Republicans have been advancing in recent years, including restrictions on abortion and voting access. If Republicans retain control of both chambers of the legislature, they will be restrained in many respects by Gov. Josh Shapiro’s veto but will be able to bypass it to put constitutional amendments before voters.

If Democrats win the chamber and stay united, they can put operating rules in place and start passing legislation after a month of parliamentary paralysis. However, they would need to work with the Republican majority in the State Senate to move anything to Mr. Shapiro’s desk.

Up in the air is the fate of Speaker Mark Rozzi, a Democrat who got the job because Republicans, with their temporary 101-to-99 majority, could not unite around one of their own. They chose Mr. Rozzi as a compromise candidate to garner Democratic support. But most Democrats prefer State Representative Joanna McClinton, and they can elect her if they win the majority — though Mr. Rozzi indicated in an interview with The Associated Press that he would try to keep the job.

Defying historical midterm election trends, Democrats flipped several state legislative chambers in November, among them, notably, both the Michigan House and the Michigan Senate. In addition to the legislative implications, those victories — including the Pennsylvania House majority, if Democrats secure it on Tuesday — could provide an extra barrier to any Republican efforts to interfere with the administration or results of the 2024 elections.

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