Surprises, close finishes highlight races for state House seats

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It was a night of mixed results in several hotly contested races for state House seats.

In the southern suburbs, in a race for the seat lost in the primary by Republican Tom Stevenson of Mt. Lebanon, Democrat Matt Smith swept to an impressive victory over 21-year-old GOP challenger Mark Harris.

In the city's South Hills, Democrat Chelsa Wagner, an attorney and the niece of state Auditor General Jack Wagner, won her first bid for public office, unseating Rep. Michael Diven, R-Brookline.

In the east suburbs, incumbent Democrat Frank Dermody of Oakmont appeared to win narrowly over former Allegheny County councilwoman Eileen Watt for his ninth term.

In the North Hills, Democratic Rep. Shawn T. Flaherty, who won the seat in a special election in April, was unseated by GOP challenger Randy Vulakovich.

In other counties, longtime Democratic Rep. Mike Veon of Beaver Falls, the only legislator to vote against repealing the pay raise, was upset by Republican Jim Marshall.

Another Democratic leader, Rep. H. William DeWeese of Waynesburg, appeared to win a razor-thin victory over GOP challenger Greg Hopkins.

10th District goes to Gibbons
Democrat Jaret Gibbons, 26, of Ellwood City, easily defeated Republican Chuck Morse of Slippery Rock to take the seat lost by 20-year incumbent Rep. Frank LaGrotta.

Ellis re-elected in 11th

Freshman Rep. Brian Ellis, R-Butler Township, coasted to an easy victory for a second term last night against Democrat Bill Neel, a retired steel worker.

Veon dumped in 14th
Democrat Mike Veon, a 22-year incumbent and the last holdout in favor of the pay raise, was stunned by GOP challenger Jim Marshall, a member of Big Beaver Borough Council.

Rep. Biancucci survives
The 15th District race between incumbent Democrat Vince Biancucci of Center and challenger Todd Hockenberry of Beaver came down to fewer than 300 votes but, with 100 percent of precincts reporting on the state's Web site, Mr. Biancucci prevailed.

Mr. Biancucci, running for his third term after 17 years as a legislative aide, campaigned on a platform of continuing development efforts in Beaver County and a future look at health care reforms. Mr. Hockenberry is an executive at a Franklin Park high-tech firm.

Walko easily in 20th
Incumbent Democrat Don Walko easily won his seventh term by defeating Republican Bill Stalter of Reserve and Jim Barr, a Constitution Party candidate.

Mr. Walko, 53, of the North Side, took some heat as a result of his support for last year's pay raise. He said he would support expanding the state sales tax -- but without taxing food and clothing -- to eliminate property taxes.

Mr. Stalter, 55, ran under the banner of PACleanSweep, a nonpartisan group formed after the pay raises were approved last year with a goal of eliminating all incumbents.

Wagner beats Diven in 22nd
Democratic newcomer Chelsa Wagner knocked off three-term incumbent Republican Michael Diven to reclaim the 22nd District seat for her party.

Ms. Wagner, 29, of Beechview, ran a spirited campaign in a race that featured two candidates with strong political roots in the district.

"I think it was a matter of who was more in touch with the voters," said Ms. Wagner. "We worked very hard going door to door to hear what people thought was important and getting our messsage across."

Mr. Diven, 36, of Brookline, had a difficult time in a heavily Democratic district. Last year, he switched from Democrat to Republican following a bitter public battle with state House Democratic leaders.

Preston wins in 24th
Incumbent Democrat Joseph Preston Jr. cruised to his 13th term. Mr. Preston, 58, of East Liberty, defeated Todd Elliott Koger of Wilkinsburg, a longtime Democratic committeeman who ran as an independent. No Republicans ran.

Markosek re-elected in 25th
Incumbent Democrat Joseph Markosek fought back challenges both in the primary and the general election to win his 13th term.

Mr. Markosek, 56, defeated Republican challenger Ed Nicholson, 48, who also lost to Mr. Markosek two years ago. The incumbent won despite his initial vote in favor of the controversial pay raise.

Petrone wins big in 27th
Rep. Tom Petrone, D-Crafton Heights, easily won a 14th term over GOP challenger William Ogden, 45, a Crafton councilman.

Mr. Petrone, 69, said his re-election showed that constituents in the district are satisfied with his representation and service.

"People who came to the polls they were not dissuaded by any negative comments made about me," Mr. Petrone said..

Turzai triumphs in 28th
Incumbent Republican Mike Turzai defeated Democrat John Henry in the North Hills district.

Mr. Turzai, 46, of Bradford Woods, was first elected to the House in 2001 in a special election, succeeding Jane Clare Orie when she was elected to the state Senate.

Vulakovich unseats Flaherty
Republican Randy Vulakovich unseated Democrat Shawn Flaherty, who had won the 30th District seat in a special election this year.

Last night at the Vulakovich house in Shaler, more than 40 supporters were subdued because of other Republican losses, but cheered when Mr. Vulakovich announced that Mr. Flaherty had called to concede. Mr. Vulakovich credited his door-to-door campaign and the work of his friends calling their friends to support his candidacy.

Rep. Dermody claims win
Incumbent Rep. Frank Dermody held a slight lead over GOP challenger Eileen Watt with all results in and declared victory after midnight in a razor-thin race.

Kortz wins 38th
Democrat William C. Kortz II, a political newcomer, was headed to victory.

Mr. Kortz, 51, of Dravosburg, an operations manager at the U.S. Steel Irvin Plant, where he has worked for 29 years, was leading Republican Daniel J. Davis, 42, of West Mifflin, in a district where Democrats enjoy a 3-to-1 advantage in registration.

Neither had ever held political office. They were running for a seat opened by the defeat of incumbent Rep. Kenneth Ruffing, D-West Mifflin, in the May primary.

Democrat Smith wins 42nd
At 9:20 p.m., to a crowd of several hundred people at Molly Brannigans, Democrat Matthew Smith, 34, claimed victory in a hard-fought race to succeed Republican Tom Stevenson, who was defeated in the primary.

"This is a victory for change, and that's what this election has always been about," Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Smith said GOP challenger Mark Harris, 21, had called to concede.

Mr. Smith said his first order of business will be to thank voters, who can expect to see him holding a "thank you" sign on Banksville Road in the coming days.

Mr. Smith, of Mt. Lebanon, grew up in Bethel Park. He is a lawyer for Babst, Calland, Clements & Zomnir in Pittsburgh.

Mustio re-elected in 44th
Incumbent Republican Mark Mustio had no trouble winning his second full term representing the western suburbs.

Mr. Mustio, 48, of Moon, defeated Democrat Ray Uhric, 62, of Moon, who ran a write-in campaign after no Democrats filed for the race in the primary.

Dems' White captures 46th
Democrat Jesse White of Cecil held a big lead over Republican Paul Snatchko for the open seat. Longtime incumbent Rep. Victor J. Lescovitz, D-Midway, is retiring at the end of the year.

Solobay re-elected in 48th
For the fourth consecutive time, Rep. Timothy Solobay, D-Canonsburg, easily defeated challenger Demo Agoris of Houston in the central and northeastern Washington County district.

Mr. Agoris, 65, has challenged Mr. Solobay as a Republican, Green and Reform party candidate, and this time was running under the Libertarian party banner.

Democrat Daley wins 49th
Democratic incumbent Rep. Peter J. Daley, D-California, was headed for victory over Republican challenger Edward S. Angell of Carroll.

Mr. Daley, 56, fought off two other Democrats during the primary and touted his work in bringing $130 million in state funding during his 24 years in office.

DeWeese in a squeaker
House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese, D-Waynesburg, appeared to win a squeaker over Republican challenger Greg Hopkins in the 50th District.

Earlier in the evening, as results filtered in, Mr. DeWeese, 56, one of the engineers of the doomed pay raise, was trailing Mr. Hopkins, 34, a Morris Township auditor and Arena League football player.

Mr. DeWeese touted his 30 years of clout and influence in the House, saying he's brought economic development and more than $40 million in grants and loans for infrastructure to the area.

Mr. Hopkins said Greene County remains the state's third poorest county and called for cutting the Legislature..

Mahoney coasts in 51st
In the race for the seat being vacated by longtime Rep. Larry Roberts, Democrat Tim Mahoney, 49, a businessman and former jury commissioner, easily defeated Republican John Mikita, 36, owner of an antique business and certified real estate appraiser.

Kula leads in 52nd
Democrat Deberah Kula, a former district judge, appeared headed to victory in the race for the seat of retiring Rep. James Shaner.

Dems' Pallone takes 54th
Incumbent Democrat John Pallone easily beat GOP challenger Scott Witon in a repeat of a matchup from two years ago.

Casorio re-elected in 56th
Incumbent Rep. James E. Casorio, D-Irwin, kept his seat, defeating Republican Joel Reiter and independent Brian Blasko.

Tangretti wins again in 57th
Incumbent Democrat Thomas A. Tangretti swept to his 10th term, trouncing Republican foe Steve Schaefer.

Harhai re-elected in 58th
Incumbent Ted Harhai, D-Monessen, easily took a sixth term, defeating newcomer Republican Dr. Peter J. McConnell of Belle Vernon.

Pyle bests challenger in 60th
Incumbent Rep. Jeff Pyle coasted to victory over Democratic challenger Ron Covone.

  This story was written by staff writers Ed Blazina, Len Barcousky, Brian David, Judy Laurinatis, Mary Niederberger, Ann Belser, Mike Bucsko, Jan Ackerman, Laura Pace, David Guo, Janice Crompton and M. Ferguson Tinsley.   


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