Democrats Take Pennsylvania House From GOP for the First Time in 12 Years

Democrats have won control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in special elections for three seats that had remained vacant from the 2022 midterms, marking the first time in 12 years that they have assumed control of the legislative chamber in a key swing state.

The deciding vote on Tuesday marked an end to months of electoral drama. Democrats had won all three seats in November, before all were vacated for different reasons, and votes for two only went ahead after a legal challenge by Republicans was rejected in court.

The results give the Democrats a slim majority of 102 to 101, the same split they held in the 2007-2008 legislative sessions. The party lost a majority of 104 in 2010, and have not been able to recover the speaker's chair until now.

At a news conference in Pittsburgh on Tuesday evening, Representative Joanna McClinton, the Democratic floor leader, noted her party had been in the Pennsylvania House minority for 24 of the past 28 years, according to the Associated Press. Prior to 2007, Democrats held a majority from 1983-1994.

Pennsylvania House of Representatives electoral college
Tellers count the elector's votes from a ballot box in the House of Representatives chamber of the Pennsylvania Capitol Building December 19, 2016 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Democrats won control of the House in special elections on Tuesday, February 7, 2023, in the key swing state. Mark Makela/Getty Images

Despite an expected win in the House, based off the initial midterm results, Republicans still hold a majority of 27 to 22 in the state Senate, posing a potential roadblock for legislation to get through to the desk of the new Democratic Governor Josh Shapiro.

However, the results may provide a welcome boon to Democrats' hopes as they look to the 2024 election. Pennsylvania has been a vital swing state in previous presidential races, flipping between Republican and Democrat in 2016 and 2020 and giving the successful candidate in each case its 20 electoral college votes.

Republicans had held a comfortable majority of 113 to 90 in the Pennsylvania House until last year. Redistricting—which occurs once a decade—and a strong showing for Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate, such as John Fetterman, and the Pennsylvania governor helped flip 12 seats.

But Tony DeLuca, the Democrat representative for the state's 32nd district, died of cancer in October and was re-elected with his name still on the ballot the following month, meaning his seat was vacant. Summer Lee, the representative for the 34th district, resigned after winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives; and Austin Davis held his 35th district while also winning the race for lieutenant governor, a role he assumed along with Shapiro.

"We look forward to the privilege of leading and serving in every corner of this Commonwealth," McClinton told reporters, according to Spotlight PA.

With the three seats vacant, the Republican caucus in the state House would have had a majority, leading to an impasse. Mark Rozzi, a Democrat, was elected as speaker with the help of some GOP lawmakers, and then froze the legislative agenda until after the elections.

Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court rejected an attempt in January by Bryan Cutler, the House Republican floor leader, to prevent the elections going ahead on Tuesday. He said in a statement following the ruling that the court "ignored basic math and prior law" and that Republicans remained "steadfast and consistent in our desire to hold elections and fill these seats in the normal course of business."

Pennsylvania House Democrats described those who had tried to stop the elections as "extremists" who "tried to end American democracy."

Newsweek has contacted Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court and Cutler for comment.

DeLuca's former seat was won by Joe McAndrew, a former state House Democratic staffer. Lee's former seat was won by Abigail Salisbury, a lawyer, and Davis' old seat was won by Matthew Gergely, a government worker in McKeesport.