Democrats may take control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for the first time since 2010 after the first general election under a newly redistricted legislative map.
Republicans have controlled both chambers in Harrisburg since 2011, and the state Senate has been majority-Republican since 1994.
Many legislative races were close through election night, but on Wednesday afternoon House Democratic leaders preemptively declared victory and started celebrating, with Rep. Leanne Krueger declaring, “We can confidently say Democrats will win the majority in the state House.”
Speaking in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the Delco representative did acknowledge that elections officials still need to count some mail, military, and provisional ballots.
If the flip does take place, it could allow Democratic lawmakers to advance their agenda for the first time in years. Recent initiatives include laws enshrining abortion rights, increasing the minimum wage, and allowing early counting of mail ballots. Philly state Rep. Joanna McClinton would become the first Black woman House speaker.
“Pennsylvania voters overwhelmingly rejected division,” McClinton said. “And the fact that here in the birthplace of our nation and the birthplace of our democracy, it is much more than symbolic that we will finally have a woman that has the gavel in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.”
Democratic control could also mean Governor-elect Josh Shapiro has fewer bills to veto, and could create a blockade against efforts to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution — a process that, if successful, cannot be vetoed by the governor.
The day after Election Day, Democrats seemed to hold a solid lead in 99 seats; Republicans appeared to hold a lock on 101 seats, and three were still extremely close — one has since been called for the Democratic candidate, while the others remain uncalled and could be affected by provisional and military ballots.
“We’ve talked to our county folks. We’ve seen all the numbers come in, but we also know, particularly mail-in ballots, how they typically trend. And the truth is, we’ve won seats that people didn’t think we would be able to take in this cycle,” said Philly state Rep. Jordan Harris.
The Democrats attributed their gains to the redistricted map and an electorate motivated by threats to abortion rights.
“One thing we’ve seen after decades of gerrymandered maps, that it turns out, 50% of Pennsylvania voters vote Democrat,” McClinton said. “It’s an amazing thing. It’s an amazing thing what a fair opportunity and fair maps and a fair district will provide.”
There are 203 total seats in the state House, all of which come up for election every two years.
Three of the close races in the days following Election Day were in the Philadelphia suburbs: Districts 142 and 144 in Bucks County and District 151 in Montgomery County.
The AP called District 144 for Democrat Brian Munroe late Thursday afternoon, with him prevailing over incumbent Republican Todd Polinchock by 406 votes. Here’s where the other two races stand:
- 142: No incumbent, open race between Democrat Mark Moffa and Republican Joseph Hogan. According to preliminary results on Bucks County’s election website, Moffa holds a lead of only 2 votes over Hogan.
- 151: Republican incumbent Todd Stephens holds a lead of 14 votes over Democratic challenger Melissa Cerrato as of Friday morning.
Democratic control of the House could create insulation for Governor-elect Shapiro, who won his race against Republican Doug Mastriano by a large margin. Shapiro’s predecessor, Gov. Tom Wolf, has exercised his veto power frequently, stopping the Republican legislative majority in their tracks on a variety of issues.
Shapiro had already pledged to do the same on abortion, promising to veto any restrictions on reproductive rights the House or Senate passes. If the House flips, he may not have to do that.
Harris told reporters following the press conference he is confident the Democrats can unite the party.
“We’re disciplined Democrats, because we know that when we’re disciplined, we get things for all of the communities across the Commonwealth that matter to us,” Harris said.
Even more impacted by the potential flip is the fate of a slate of constitutional amendments passed by both chambers this year, including an amendment to expressly exclude abortion rights from the state constitution. Constitutional amendments cannot be vetoed by the governor, but they do have to pass twice in the legislature and then be approved by voters in a statewide referendum.
In Philadelphia, the changes didn’t create any surprises. Both of the city’s incumbent state senators up for re-election held onto their seats, and in Philly’s House delegation, 20 incumbents are sticking around.
That includes Chris Rabb (D-200), who will now represent a new district that combines West Oak Lane and Mt. Airy. He beat out former House colleague Izzy Fitzgerald in May’s primary, following the map shift that put them in the same district.
Rep. Kevin Boyle, a Democrat who represents portions of Philadelphia and Montgomery County in District 172 — and is the brother of U.S. Rep Brendan Boyle — will also keep his seat after facing a challenge from Republican former City Councilmember Al Taubenberger. A year ago, Wolf had called for Boyle to resign after he violated a protection of abuse order. Boyle’s election was the closest in Philly, with the Democrat beating out Taubenberg with 56% of the vote.
There will be several new Philly faces in Harrisburg when the House session begins in January.
Democrat Anthony Bellmon, a former advisor to Brendan Boyle, will represent parts of Northeast Philadelphia in District 203.
Democrat Ben Waxman, a former WHYY journalist who spent time as communications director for District Attorney Larry Krasner, will fill the 182nd state House district seat left vacant by Brian Sims, who ran for lieutenant governor earlier this year.
In District 194, Democrat Tarik Khan, who had a career in nursing, beat incumbent Rep. Pam Delissio in May’s primary on the strength of name recognition and political goodwill gained running a COVID-19 vaccination program and organizing against a natural gas plant in Nicetown.
Also joining the city’s delegation will be Patrick Gallagher in Northeast Philly’s District 173, Jose Giral in Kensington’s District 180, and Roni Green in District 190, which includes parts of West and Northwest Philly. (Green briefly served in the state House repping the 190th after a February 2020 special election, but she didn’t win the Democratic nomination for that seat later that year.)