Pa. Rep. Jesse White appears to have survived what many thought would be his political swan song this year.
The embattled Democrat from the 46th District pulled ahead for his party's nomination Tuesday night over popular challenger Tom Casciola, 59, a longtime Cecil supervisor.
Mr. White, 35, also of Cecil, ran away with a solid lead late Tuesday, proving wrong his critics who didn't think voters would forgive his lapse in judgment last year.
"It's a relief," he said late Tuesday. "I decided early on not to go negative and maintain a positive campaign. I had detractors who were trying to bait me. The challenge for me was to keep the fire in my belly while learning to control the flame. Being able to do that is the thing that I can really feel proud about tonight."
Mr. White has drawn criticism for his seemingly thin-skinned nature and caught flak last year when he admitted impersonating Marcellus Shale drilling proponents who also were constituents and other lawmakers on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Unfair or not, incidents like those, along with his tough stance on drilling companies like Range Resources, have painted Mr. White as the anti-drilling candidate. He said he favors "responsible drilling," but Mr. White supports many proposals that drilling companies do not, such as a severance tax on natural gas along with the already-instituted impact fee.
A Cecil supervisor for 22 years and a home-builder, Mr. Casciola said he felt Mr. White would be swept from office for his personality conflicts and for his position on Marcellus Shale drilling. Mr. Casciola did not favor a severance tax on drillers, but said he could support a higher impact fee.
Mr. White had survived previous challengers but this year was considered to be his toughest yet. In the beginning, the race drew three Democrats and two Republicans, but those numbers whittled to two Democrats and one Republican in recent weeks.
Mr. White was swept into office along with dozens of other fresh faces in 2006 as a result of the furor over the short-lived, middle-of-the-night legislative pay raises. He is seeking his fifth term in the district, which was redrawn last year to include Washington County municipalities Canton, Cecil, Mount Pleasant, Smith, Burgettstown, Robinson, Midway, and McDonald. In Allegheny County, the district now encompasses Oakdale, South Fayette, Collier, and Bridgeville.
Eliminated is a sliver of Beaver County that he once represented, along with Chartiers, Cross Creek, Avella and other western Washington County communities.
Members of the group Concerned Citizens in the 46th District regularly lampoons Mr. White on its Facebook page, and on Tuesday night said it was disappointed that he wasn't removed from office.
"We lost the battle but not the war," said group organizer Darlene Barni of Cecil. "We won't quit till it's over. We have high hopes for the general election because now it means we are going to get out there and work a little harder."
Ms. Barni said many Democrats who supported Mr. Casciola said they will get behind Republican challenger Jason Ortitay in the Nov. 4 general election. Mr. Ortitay, 30, is a small business owner from South Fayette and a political newcomer. He faced no challenge Tuesday.
"There are a lot of disappointed people who were banking on Tom Casciola getting in," she said. "If we have to go person to person, we will. [Mr. White] doesn't deserve any more of our taxpayer money."
Mr. White said he is looking forward to the birth of his first child with his wife, Eileen, expected in early June, and the fall campaign against Mr. Ortitay.
"Having this race in the spring meant I had to go out knocking on 2,000 doors," he said. "It's kind of like training camp. I wouldn't have had that if I was unopposed. I think it gives me a leg up."
Janice Crompton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1159.