Voters in Pittsburgh Area Will Determine Balance in Pennsylvania House

The News

A special election on Tuesday to fill an open legislative seat in the Pittsburgh area will also determine which party takes power in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives.

The state’s lower chamber has been split 101-101 between Democrats and Republicans since July, when former Representative Sara Innamorato, a Democrat, stepped down from her seat to run for Allegheny County executive.

Voters in Ms. Innamorato’s former district, which includes part of Pittsburgh and its northern suburbs, will choose her successor. The candidates for the state’s 21st House District are Lindsay Powell, a Democrat who has strong ties to party leaders in Washington, including Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, and Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the minority leader; and Erin Connolly Autenreith, a Republican who is the chairwoman of a local party committee.

Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives has been split between Democrats and Republicans since July, with each party holding 101 seats.Credit…Matt Rourke/Associated Press

Why It Matters: The vote will determine a swing state’s power balance.

Pennsylvania is a crucial swing state, playing an important role in presidential elections, as well as determining which party holds power in the United States Congress. Whichever party gains an upper hand in the state can make a major difference in Washington, in addition to making law in Pennsylvania.

It’s also one of just two states, along with Virginia, where the legislative chambers are split by party.

In Harrisburg, Democrats have controlled the governor’s office since 2015, and Gov. Josh Shapiro won his first term convincingly in November 2022. Republicans, on the other hand, have held a strong grip on the Senate for decades.

Democrats won a majority in the House in 2022 for the first time in 12 years and by the slimmest of margins — it took only Ms. Innamorato’s resignation to make it an even split.

Background: The state has seen several special elections this year.

In May, Heather Boyd, a Democrat, won a closely watched special election in southeast Delaware County, part of the Philadelphia suburbs. Top Democrats, including President Biden and Governor Shapiro, had framed the contest as crucial to protecting reproductive rights in Pennsylvania.

But on the same day, in a separate special election, Republicans retained a state House seat in north-central Pennsylvania with the triumph of Michael Stender, a school board member and firefighter.

Heading into the third special election of the year on Tuesday, the Democratic candidate, Ms. Powell, 32, who works in work force development, was viewed as a solid favorite, with a sizable fund-raising advantage.

She would become the first African American woman to represent the district, which Ms. Innamorato captured in 2022 with 63 percent of the vote.

Republican officials acknowledged that the heavily Democratic district would be difficult for them to win. Still, Ms. Autenreith, 65, has been active on the campaign trail.

What Happens Next: The state House could soon be in play yet again.

No matter who prevails on Tuesday, voters in Pennsylvania may soon face yet another special election with huge stakes.

If State Representative John Galloway, a Democrat who represents a district northeast of Philadelphia, prevails in a race for a district judgeship in November, as is expected, the chamber would be split again until another contest could be held to fill his seat.

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