HARRISBURG -- In stunning upsets, the state Senate's two top-ranking Republicans were defeated last night in fierce primary challenges fueled by anger over last year's legislative pay raises.
Senate Pro Tem Robert Jubelirer, a 32-year Senate veteran, lost to longtime political foe John Eichelberger, a Blair County commissioner. Mr. Jubelirer conceded at 10:55 p.m. with votes still rolling in. He had 8,057 votes to Mr. Eichelberger's 10,084, or 45 percent to 36 percent, with 66 percent of precincts reporting. C. Arnold McClure, a newspaper publisher, had 4,223 votes, or 19 percent, in the three-way race.
Majority Leader David Brightbill, of Lebanon, lost to former Lebanon City Councilman Mike Folmer. Early results, including 65 percent of precincts, showed Mr. Folmer with 10,757 votes, or 65 percent, and Mr. Brightbill with 5,850, or 35 percent.
The results stunned observers and candidates alike.
Mr. Jubelirer recounted his legislative career and the people who helped him along the way.
"I don't want anyone feeling sorry for me. I have had an enormous run. I am the most blessed man. It has been a remarkable life, and it ain't over."
Earlier in Lebanon County, Mr. Brightbill's supporters had gathered to hear a similar message.
"It's been a great experience to have the support of so many wonderful people," Mr. Brightbill, a 23-year Senate veteran, told supporters at his campaign headquarters. "If there is anyone to blame for our lack of success, it is me."
Political observers attributed the contentiousness of both races to ongoing public anger over the legislative pay raises approved last July and then repealed in November after public outcry. Some called yesterday "the day of reckoning" because it was voters' first chance to take out their anger on legislators at the polls.
"The pay raise made a lot of people realize it's time to take our government back," said Laurel Lynn Petolicchio, Mr. Folmer's campaign press secretary.
Earlier in the day the Brightbill campaign had played down the effect of the controversial pay raises, which ranged from 16 percent to 34 percent.
"Clearly some people are upset about it, but from the feedback we're getting at the polls today, it seems most people have put the pay-raise issue aside," Mr. Brightbill's campaign manager, Erik Arneson, said shortly before polls closed. "We had great feedback [from voters] all day."
Apparently, voters had something different to say with their ballots, especially in Lebanon County, a former Brightbill stronghold, where early returns showed Mr. Folmer leading almost two-to-one.
The Folmer campaign was to celebrate the night away in a ballroom at the Quality Inn in Quintin.
His campaign volunteers made inroads by rallying enough support for a Harrisburg outsider even to mount a challenge to a high-ranking senator, she said.
"Either way, we sent the message that people want to take their government back," Mrs. Petolicchio had said before the polls closed.
Mr. Brightbill -- who spent at least $672,000 campaigning, according to reports filed May 5 -- apparently took the threat seriously. He churned out campaign advertising all week, buying television spots, sending mailings and making phone calls.
The Folmer campaign spent about $70,000, Mrs. Petolicchio said.
In November, Mr. Folmer will face John R. Liss, who ran unopposed in yesterday's Democratic primary.
Until then, Mr. Brightbill pledges to continue to work hard for his constituents.
"I wish Mike Folmer and his family success and I wish them happiness," he said. "His success as our senator is our success."
Mr. Brightbill, a 62-year-old attorney, has been majority leader since 2000 and a senator since 1983. He is credited with writing legislation that transformed the state welfare system and its environmental laws. He also helped pave the pay for 14 slots casinos to open in Pennsylvania.
His district includes all of Lebanon County and parts of Berks, Lancaster, Dauphin and Chester counties.
Mr. Jubelirer has been a member of Senate leadership since 1981 and has been a senator since 1975. His district includes Blair, Bedford, Fulton and Huntingdon counties and part of Mifflin County.