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Pennsylvania Democrats believe they have flipped the state House

Republicans will retain control of the Senate. But flipping control of the House would represent a stunning victory for Democrats.

Pennsylvania House Democratic Campaign Committee held a press conference in front of Independence Hall to discuss 2022 election results. Rep. Joanna McClinton said she was poised to become the next speaker of the House.
Pennsylvania House Democratic Campaign Committee held a press conference in front of Independence Hall to discuss 2022 election results. Rep. Joanna McClinton said she was poised to become the next speaker of the House.Read moreAlejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer

Pennsylvania Democrats believe they have taken control of the state House for the first time in more than a decade, an outcome that was considered a long shot by even the most optimistic Democrats but that has not yet been confirmed by independent analysts.

Republicans on Wednesday said the declaration of victory was premature. They’re pinning their hopes on a handful of close races in the Philadelphia suburbs where the candidates are separated by hundreds — or in some cases just dozens — of votes.

Even if Republicans retained control, the surprise showing by Democrats still indicated that strong victories in statewide races for governor and U.S. Senate may have helped carry the party in down-ballot races. Democrats in other swing states outperformed expectations, including in Michigan, where the party won control of the legislature for the first time in decades.

Democrats said it showed that a favorable redistricting process in Pennsylvania gave them a fighting chance, and that swing voters were moved by Harrisburg’s now-total control over abortion policy in Pennsylvania.

Democratic control of the House would have major implications for Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro’s ability to enact policy in Harrisburg next year. Republicans will retain control of the state Senate, but a House controlled by Shapiro’s party would strengthen his hand in negotiations with the legislature.

And it would all but guarantee abortion laws in Pennsylvania remain unchanged. The GOP has advanced legislation that would amend the state constitution to say there is no right to an abortion, but the legislation would require a majority of both chambers.

State Rep. Leanne Krueger (D., Delaware), who chairs the party’s state House campaign arm, estimated that Democrats will win at least 102 seats of the 203-seat chamber. She based her projection on the number of mail ballots left to count in close races. Mail ballots have generally leaned toward Democrats.

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As of Wednesday afternoon, the Associated Press had called 195 seats and Democrats had a razor-thin advantage. Eight remain uncalled, and members on both sides of the aisle said control would likely come down to five or fewer races.

Jason Gottesman, a spokesperson for the House GOP, said Democrats claiming the majority Wednesday was premature and that House Republicans are still monitoring a number of races.

In Montgomery County’s 151st District, incumbent Republican Rep. Todd Stephens and Democratic challenger Melissa Cerrato were separated by just two dozen votes. The county had about 4,300 mail ballots left to count, and provisional ballots had not yet been processed.

In Bucks County’s 144th District, Republican incumbent Rep. Todd Polinchock trailed Democratic challenger Brian Munroe by fewer than 500 votes. And in the 142nd, Democrat Mark Moffa and Republican Joseph Hogan were virtually tied ― separated by just two votes.

Patricia Poprik, chair of the Bucks County GOP, said provisional, military, and overseas ballots had yet to be counted, and hundreds or thousands of mail ballots could still be outstanding.

“For anyone on either side to jump and say they have won is premature,” she said.

Why House Democrats are confident

Still, more than a dozen Democrats felt confident enough in their projection that they stood in the shadow of Independence Hall Wednesday afternoon and laid out their policy agenda while referring to Rep. Joanna McClinton, the House minority leader, as the speaker of the House.

If Democrats took control of the chamber, McClinton would be the first woman to be speaker of the House in state history. Pennsylvania has had just one other Black speaker — K. Leroy Irvis, of Allegheny County, was the first Black speaker and served in the role for eight years in the 1970s and 80s.

McClinton, who represents parts of West Philadelphia, said the wins represented a rebuke of the Republican Party, saying “Pennsylvania voters overwhelmingly rejected fear, Pennsylvania voters overwhelmingly rejected hatred, Pennsylvania voters overwhelmingly rejected division.”

Democrats needed to net a dozen seats to take control. The party targeted 14 districts across the state that it saw as key, almost all of them in suburban areas.

Three of those districts — two in Allegheny County and one in the State College area — were newly drawn, so there was no incumbent to defend them. Democrats Arvind Venkat and Mandy Steele held significant leads Wednesday morning in Allegheny, as did Democrat Paul Takac in State College.

Krueger said Democrats expected to flip some seats due to favorable redistricting, but appear to have held onto seats in districts that former President Donald Trump carried and that Democrats expected to lose.

“It shows that talking to folks face-to-face and providing good constituent services and working hard and knocking doors can pull us over the finish line,” she said. “The voters are tired of lies, they want to defend democracy. And women came out to vote strongly. When you put all of that together, you can get the path to 102.”

Democrats saw this year as their best chance in a decade to take control of the lower chamber, as it was the first general election since the state adopted new legislative maps through redistricting. And while the new state House map slightly favors Republicans, it is far more politically competitive than the previous one, according to a detailed data analysis conducted for The Inquirer by the nonpartisan Princeton Gerrymandering Project.

Redistricting happens every 10 years and is tied to population changes captured by the census. The new Senate map largely protected incumbents in both parties. So the upper chamber, which Republicans have controlled since 1994, was less likely to see major shifts, and just half the 50 seats were on the ballot.

State Rep. Jordan Harris (D., Philadelphia) said the new maps were the difference maker.

“When you have fair maps, Democrats win,” he said. “And that’s what you saw on Election Day.”

Inquirer staff writer Max Marin contributed.