GOP absorbs losses but retains control in state Legislature

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Democrats made significant inroads in both chambers of the Pennsylvania Legislature during Tuesday's election, but Republicans began the day with margins large enough to absorb those losses and still have comfortable governing majorities in both the House and Senate.

A Democratic electoral wave in the Philadelphia suburbs turned at least 12 state House and four state Senate districts from red to blue.

Five House and two Senate districts, all but one most recently in Republican hands, remain too close to call.

Rep. Kate Harper, a nine-term Montgomery County Republican, had survived a series of tough races over the years before losing Tuesday in a district almost evenly divided by party registration.

"It's too early to drink, but I am eating all the leftover Halloween candy," Harper said Wednesday. "Those of us from the southeast, call us independent, call us moderate, call us bipartisan, whatever you want. We were in the minority in the Republican caucus, but the middle is where things happen."

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Going into the voting, Republicans were defending majorities of 121-82 in the House and 34-16 in the Senate.

Republican Sens. Tom McGarrigle, of Delaware County, and John Rafferty, of Montgomery County, were defeated, and the son and namesake of retiring Republican Sen. Stewart Greenleaf could not retain his Montgomery County seat. A former state representative, Steve Santasiero, won a Bucks County seat left vacant by the retirement of Republican Sen. Chuck McIlhinney.

Democrat Lindsey Williams is clinging to a narrow lead over Republican Jeremy Shaffer for GOP Sen. Randy Vulakovich's seat in Allegheny County, as is Republican Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, of Bucks County, over his challenger, Democratic state Rep. Tina Davis.

Davis has not conceded, and she did not plan to make any public comments until Friday, when the county will produce the official count, a campaign spokesman said. Davis needs provisional, overseas and military ballots to wipe out a Tomlinson lead of 100 votes, or she will return to the House, where she also ran and was re-elected on Tuesday.

Still, the Senate has had a Republican majority since 1994.

House Democrats projected that their net gain of at least 11 seats may be the party's largest in more than 40 years, since the electoral shake-up that followed the Watergate scandal. All of the House Democrats' gains may turn out to be in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Among other victories, Democrats flipped seats held most recently by retiring longtime GOP state Reps. Bob Godshall in Montgomery County and John Taylor in Philadelphia. Losing Taylor's seat leaves Republicans with just a single state House member in the state's largest city - Rep. Martina White.

House Republicans will enjoy majority control for a fifth consecutive two-year session. They are projecting a majority of at least 110-93 after defeating Cambria County Rep. Bryan Barbin and winning a Clinton County district held most recently by retiring Democratic Whip Mike Hanna.

Still too close to call is Democratic Rep. Helen Tai's Bucks County seat. Tai has served in the Legislature only since June, after she won a special election.

There is a new vacancy in the state Senate, where Republican Sen. Guy Reschenthaler has been elected to Congress from the state's southwestern corner.

Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown, D-Philadelphia, was unopposed in Tuesday's election, but it's not likely she will be sworn in. She was convicted of bribery last week and will be sentenced later this month.

The House speaker is expected to schedule special elections to replace her and state Rep. Sid Michaels Kavulich, D-Lackawanna, who died last month and won without an opponent on the ballot.