State Rep. Randy Vulakovich, R-Shaler, cruised to victory in the special election to replace convicted state Sen. Jane Orie, but it took some convincing.
Mr. Vulakovich's campaign team made about 20,000 phone calls to rally fellow Republicans to cast ballots Tuesday in the 40th District race against Democrat Sharon Brown, a health care consultant from McCandless, and he was aided by television advertisements, mailers and the Republican Party apparatus in Harrisburg.
He won 73 percent to 27 percent but still spent election night nervously driving around Shaler to check polls, much like he used to drive around the township as a police officer for nearly three decades.
Late Tuesday, after his win was cemented, he thanked his family, political supporters and others as well as Jack Reiber, his former partner on the Shaler force.
"It was nice to know you had someone there as your backup. I was there for him, he was there for me," he said of his former partner.
"You learn how important that is in life and that's what is going on here today.
"Some of you have really come forward and put your faith in me, and now I will just say an extra prayer every day that I can live up to your expectations."
Mr. Vulakovich refused per diems and a state car in his last two House terms, and his campaign made much of that as well as his police career in efforts to reach voters turned off by Orie's public corruption conviction.
His campaign motto dubbed him a "principled public servant."
He also had the support of House majority leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, who defeated Ms. Brown by a similar margin in 2010 in her first run for political office.
Orie resigned in May following her conviction on charges she used her state staff to conduct campaign work during office hours.
The state scheduled the Aug. 7 special election soon after.
"It was hard to run a race when you have such short time period and can't come close to the amount spent on advertising," Ms. Brown said Wednesday.
Candidates "should be elected by people based on their ideas and not the amount of money they can spend."
Mr. Vulakovich's election to the state Senate will mean a short-term vacancy in the 30th House district serving Fox Chapel, Hampton and parts of O'Hara, Ross and Shaler.
Democrat David Tusick is already vying for the seat on the Nov. 6 ballot, and Republican Party officials will have to meet to name a replacement for Mr. Vulakovich.
Tuesday night he announced his support for attorney and Marine Corps veteran Hal English of Hampton, though other possible candidates include GOP committeeman Mike McMullen of Hampton, Shaler Commissioner David Shutter or Fox Chapel Tea Party leader Patti Weaver.
Turnout in the special Senate election was low.
Allegheny County unofficial results showed 13.57 percent of registered voters hit the polls, and Butler County officials were still collecting totals early Wednesday.
Should the state's latest round of legislative district maps be approved by the Supreme Court, Mr. Vulakovich would be placed in a Senate district still representing North Hills communities but dipping down into a slice of Pittsburgh currently represented by incumbent Democrat Jim Ferlo.
Mr. Ferlo, like many other Democrats, is fighting the proposed redistricting.
Tim McNulty: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1581. Follow the Early Returns blog at earlyreturns.sites.post-gazette.com or on Twitter at @EarlyReturns. First Published August 9, 2012 9:30 AM