HARRISBURG - Republicans riding the wave of anti-incumbent sentiment took control of both chambers of the legislature on Tuesday.
Retaining its grip on the Senate and unseating enough Democrats to get a majority in the House, the GOP could look forward to ruling the General Assembly as well as the governor's office, soon to be occupied by Tom Corbett.
Voters swept out veterans in both parties Tuesday, including the House majority leader, Todd Eachus (D., Luzerne), and former House GOP leader John M. Perzel (R., Phila.), the latter running with the added burden of facing criminal charges.
In the House, Republican candidates wiped out the narrow margin of seats that had kept Democrats on top for the last four years. Controlling both chambers gives the GOP a formidable one-two punch when it comes to dictating the legislative agenda - not to mention a favorite partisan plum, the redrawing of congressional district boundaries next year as part of reapportionment.
"It's huge," said G. Terry Madonna, veteran political scientist and pollster at Franklin and Marshall College. "The Republicans are in the catbird seat as far as the substance of legislation for the next two years.
"The big question is, will they go along with Tom Corbett's agenda, which includes a lot of program and budget cuts?"
As midnight approached, House Republican campaign officials predicted they would win as many as 110 or 112 seats in the 203-member lower chamber when the dust settled and the absentee votes were counted.
In the House, Republicans gained ground in Philadelphia's suburbs and exurbs, taking at least five seats that were either up for grabs or held by Democrats.
Republican Todd Stephens, for instance, picked off Democratic incumbent Rep. Rick Taylor of Montgomery County; and in Delaware County, Republican Joe Hackett won the state House seat that incumbent Bryan Lentz had given up to run a losing race for Congress. Hackett beat Democrat Walt Waite.
Republicans also took back House seats in the suburbs that had been held by Democrats Barbara McIlvaine Smith, Tom Houghton, and Paul Drucker of Chester County.
"We had good candidates and worked hard on the ground," said Rep. Dave Reed (R., Indiana), chairman of the House Republican campaign committee. "And we recognized that some seats were won after the [2005 legislative] pay raise or the Obama win, and that we had a chance to take those."
"The time for politics is over," Johnna Pro, spokeswoman for House Appropriations Chairman Dwight Evans, a longtime Democratic powerhouse from Philadelphia, said last night. "It is now time to govern. We have serious challenges in Pennsylvania, and we have to work together to overcome those challenges for the people of the state."
A lone bright spot for suburban Democrats came in a Delaware County race where Margo Davidson prevailed over Republican challenger Maureen Carey for the House seat that had been held by longtime Rep. Mario Civera.
Who will lead the new majority and minority in the House is up in air. Eachus, who was first elected House majority leader in 2006 and had served in the House for 13 years, was unexpectedly toppled Tuesday by GOP challenger Tarah Toohil in Luzerne County.
Republicans also won the seat of the retiring House speaker, Keith McCall (D., Carbon).
In Philadelphia, one result signaled the end of an era: former House Speaker Perzel, facing trial in the so-called Bonusgate scandal, fell to Democratic challenger Kevin Boyle.
Perzel, who had represented Northeast Philadelphia for 32 years, rose to leadership posts before sliding to backbencher status after Republicans lost House control amid fallout from the infamous 2005 legislative pay raise. The final blow came this year when Perzel was charged in the Bonusgate corruption investigation.
Criminal charges apparently failed to topple former House Democratic leader Bill DeWeese (D., Greene), who was winning reelection to a 17th term despite also facing trial on charges indirectly arising from the same scandal.
Fifteen incumbents in the Senate faced challengers, but in that chamber, Republicans gained a few seats and emerged with a comfortable 30-20 majority.
Among the winners was Republican Sen. Jane Orie (R., Allegheny). She, too, was re-elected despite facing public corruption charges.