Smith defeats Raja in close race

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Pennsylvania Rep. Matt Smith will join his Senate counterparts across the State Capitol Rotunda next year after Tuesday night's win over Republican D. Raja for the 37th District seat.

The win fills the seat vacated by Moon Republican John Pippy, who in June stepped down after nine years covering the district to head the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance, a newly created industry group.

However the returns piled in Tuesday night, Mr. Smith could count on a place in Harrisburg.

The 40-year-old will leave behind his own seat as state representative in the 42nd District, a much smaller territory that includes parts of six municipalities, including Mt. Lebanon and his hometown of Bethel Park, and as many school districts.

A special election for that seat will be held next year.

Mr. Smith, who announced in July he would run for 37th District seat, campaigned on the idea that as state senator, he could further achieve the goals he started when elected to the House in 2006. Those include reducing the size of General Assembly, passing crucial education legislation and providing tax credits for green building technologies.

Both candidates spent a considerable amount of time knocking on doors in their South Hills stomping grounds and elsewhere in the 37th District.

The territory includes 31 Allegheny County municipalities and extends as far north as Bell Acres and as far south as Peters, the district's single municipality in Washington County, where Mr. Raja took more votes.

The end of this race marks another defeat for Mr. Raja, the 47-year-old former Mt. Lebanon commissioner who lost the Allegheny County Executive race to Rich Fitzgerald last year.

Mr. Smith defeated Mark Harris, Mr. Raja's lead political consultant, in his first House run in 2006.

Mr. Smith, an attorney, graduated from Bethel Park High School, Rollins College in Florida and the Duquesne University School of Law.

The Democrat, flanked by wife Eileen and their three children, addressed about 75 supporters at the Walnut Grill restaurant in Mt. Lebanon.

"This campaign has been very difficult at times," Mr. Smith said, praising his team which helped jump-start the compressed, four-month effort in which he said his opponent outspent him.

"When you have a message like that that resonates, that will trump money any day of the week."

During the campaign, Mr. Raja launched ads accusing Mr. Smith of breaking a promise not to accept a taxpayer-funded state pension.

Mr. Smith said he pledged to forgo the pension only in his first term. As for the cost of living adjustment, in 2009, he said he gave back four months' worth to the state treasury. He said he gave the remaining eight months -- and the first six months of this year -- to Outreach Teen and Family Services Inc. in Mt. Lebanon.

Raja addressed a group of supporters in the Crowne Plaza hotel in Bethel Park Tuesday night, shortly after he said he called Mr. Smith to congratulate him on his win.

"I think we had the right message, but we came up a little bit short," he said, as his wife, Neeta and daughters Isana, 11, and Omisa, 8, stood by him.

He said he was committed to being involved in public life.

"I feel the need to serve, and I will do it in whatever manner is possible," he said.

In an interview after the speech, he called it a difficult race, especially coming off a win in the primary.

"This was tough," he said. "This was tougher than the county exec race."

In Collier, Findlay, Peters and other municipalities in this district, Marcellus Shale is among the chief issues for residents.

Mr. Smith voted against Act 13 -- which created a per-well annual fee, changed regulations and outlined which parts of the drilling industry can and cannot be regulated by municipalities -- calling it "100 percent the wrong approach."

Mr. Smith has called Gov. Tom Corbett's education cuts draconian, and as state representative, he introduced legislation that would increase funding for full-day kindergarten, pre-K initiatives and promoted overall education funding.

Mr. Smith does not support House Majority Leader Mike Turzai's proposal, which would replace the more than 600 state wine and spirit stores with 1,600 retail licenses that would be offered first for sale to beer distributors and then auctioned to the highest bidder.

He has expressed concern that the measure would negatively affect small business owners and their staffs.

39th District

Incumbent Republican Kim Ward of Hempfield swept to an easy victory over write-in candidate Ron Gazze, 62, a Greensburg dentist, for the seat representing most of Westmoreland County.

Ms. Ward, 56, won the nomination of both parties in the primary as a result of a Democratic write-in campaign. She will begin her second term in January.

47th District

Republican Elder Vogel Jr. of New Sewickley won a second term in the seat that stretches from Allegheny to Lawrence and Beaver counties.

Mr. Vogel, 56, easily defeated Baden Councilwoman Kimberly Pazzanita Villella in what had been a quiet race until the last week, when he used $115,000 from the state GOP and another $80,000 from the Senate Republicans to buy separate radio promoting himself and criticizing Ms. Villella, 49.

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Molly Born: or 412-263-1944. Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707.


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