By Peter L. DeCoursey
HARRISBURG (Nov. 7) – Senate Democrats won three GOP-held open seats, despite being out-spent overall 3-1, and defended a vulnerable incumbent the Senate GOP was sure it would defeat: Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria.
“Our opponents have conceded in all four races we were contesting tonight, and we are up to 23 seats, which means Democrats will have a voice in policy and legislation,” said Senate Democratic Campaign Committee Chairman Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery.
“This changes the dynamic in the Senate. This means no more extremist legislation will be passed through the Senate. On many of their extremist bills, the Senate Republicans could let 2-3 senators vote no, because those are bad votes in their districts. Now if they want to pass a bill, it will have to be a moderate bill, a compromise bill, because they will need all the Republicans, including their moderates, and they will need Democratic votes.
“So we will end the extremist legislation and budgets of the last two years and you will see the difference in this year’s budget.”
Senate GOP leaders did not respond to requests for comment.
The five key races were:
• Democrat Rob Teplitz defeated Republican John McNally in a Dauphin County district, 60,682 to 56,898, 51.6 percent to 48.4 percent, in the seat of retiring Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin;
• Democrat Sean Wiley defeated Republican Janet Anderson in Erie County, 58,436 votes to 38,195, 60 percent to 40 percent in the district of retiring Sen. Jane Earll, R-Erie;
• Rep. Matt Smith, D-Allegheny, defeated Republican D. Raja, 63,436 votes to 56,489, 53 percent to 47 percent in the seat of retired Sen. John Pippy, R-Allegheny;
• Wozniak defeating Tim Houser, 45,156 votes. 51 percent, to 43,069 or 49 percent;
• Sen. Elder Vogel, R-Beaver, handily winning re-election, in a race which DSCC originally invested in, then abandoned two weeks from election day. Vogel garned 57,298 votes to 43,104 for Kim Villella, 57 percent to 43 percent.
Leach said it was also significant that Smith, Wiley, Wozniak and Teplitz all made Gov. Tom Corbett’s budgets and education cuts an issue, and ran against the Corbett agenda, defeating Republicans who had to defend many of those policies.
Many insiders believed a week ago that Wiley would win handily and Smith would win, albeit in a closer race.
So attention focused on the Teplitz race, with Leach ceasing to use DSCC funds for the Smith or Wiley races “because we know we are going to win those.”
“I really think the education issue was big for us,” said Teplitz as he worked a Susquehanna Twp. polling place a few feet from McNally during the morning.
Teplitz ran ahead in three-quarters of the district compared to the 2008 Democratic Senate challenger, Judy Hirsh, who lost to Piccola. About 9,000 fewer residents voted compared to 2008, but Teplitz ran well ahead of Hirsh’s margins over Piccola in the city of Harrisburg, and Susquehanna Twp.
“People understand that education is about economic development and jobs and that matters,” Teplitz said.
His staff were still happily stunned by the scope of the win.
“We even won the polling place where McNally lives,” said Teplitz campaign manager Victor Wills, Ward 11 of Lower Paxton Twp.
Teplitz said: “I think this shows people wanted a problem-solver, not someone who would play politics, and it shows that my support for the city helped my campaign and my opponent’s do-nothing attitude hurt him.”
Teplitz said he looked forward to working with the Senate GOP majority, but echoed Leach: “I think voters sent a message today about how they want us do their business and I am looking forward to working with everyone to do that, for Harrisburg and for the state.”