The Democrats' quest to dent the Republicans 18-seat advantage in the state House appeared to benefit little from southwestern Pennsylvania voters Tuesday, as a race with the potential for a partisan shift remained virtually tied, while others stayed true to their red or blue form.
In perhaps Allegheny County's bitterest state House race, the 39th District saw a rematch between Republican incumbent Rick Saccone, of Elizabeth Township, and Democrat Dave Levdansky, of Forward. Mr. Levdansky was ahead by a few hundred votes late last night.
Two years ago, Mr. Saccone, 54, a political science professor at Saint Vincent College, upended the quarter-century legislative career of Mr. Levdansky, 58.
In his comeback bid, Mr. Levdansky proposed reducing property taxes and making up the difference by closing business tax loopholes and increasing the levy on gas drillers. In ads, he characterized Mr. Saccone as a part-time legislator who had promptly turned from reformer to Harrisburg insider.
Down the campaign's home stretch, Mr. Saccone hammered Mr. Levdansky for accepting a state pension. "My opponent defends himself and special interests and I've been out there defending the taxpayer," he said in an interview.
The race seemed to come down to South Park, where lines at the high school's polling place remained long deep into the evening, delaying a final count.
In a hard-fought race in the Route 65 corridor, incumbent Democrat Robert Matzie held off Republican Kathy Coder.
Ms. Coder, 53, owner of a leadership development firm and a Bellevue Council member, ran a well-financed campaign that she said focused on bringing "some new blood and new thinking to create jobs and bring a revitalization in the district."
Mr. Matzie, 44, of Ambridge, first elected in 2008, countered that he was the candidate who voters could trust "to put people before politics to get the job done" and spur development like a petrochemical cracker plant slated for the area. He also said he'd be better positioned to defend education and transportation from cuts.
As results rolled in, Mr. Matzie said he thought "the truth prevailed. My opponent ran a pretty negative campaign. We stayed on course."
He said Ms. Coder's team sent out 20 mailers, many of them negative.
"I think it just disgusted the voters," he said. "I'll tell you one thing we need to look at: campaign finance reform."
If incumbent Republican Mark Mustio, R-Moon, was politically scarred by a failed spring bid for his party's nomination for a state Senate seat, it didn't show Tuesday, as he held his House seat against a savvy challenger.
Mr. Mustio's primary campaign for the Senate seat made thinly veiled references to rival D. Raja's Indian heritage. The backlash helped to propel Mr. Raja to victory.
Mr. Mustio's challenger for his House seat, Democrat Mark Scappe, a former Moon School Board member, sought to capitalize on the incumbent's wounds. Before the voting began, Mr. Scappe, a 51-year-old engineer, said constituents were "upset at my opponent with the negative campaigning he did in the spring."
But Mr. Mustio, 55, defended his nine years in the House, saying he had supported "a significant amount of business and job development that has taken place with the help of taxpayers working with the private sector to make sure the infrastructure is there."
In one of the three area state House races without an incumbent, Democrats kept the seat formerly held by powerhouse Bill DeWeese, who was convicted on corruption charges in February and tossed off the ballot in August.
The winner, Pam Snyder, 56, of Jefferson, served as a Greene County commissioner for nine years. "The key was having a district of people that have known me my whole life, have watched me my whole life in the public arena," she said as results showed her firmly in command.
Though she didn't want to talk about DeWeese, Ms. Snyder noted that, "Voters right now want someone that they know, trust and can have faith in." She said she'll continue to "leave the politics at the door," as she has on the county commission.
Falling short was Republican Mark Fischer, 51, a Waynesburg council member and business manager.
In another open seat race, Republican Hal English of Hampton was rolling up a convincing lead over Democrat David Tusick of Fox Chapel.
The seat had been held by Republican Randy Vulakovich, who ascended in August to the state Senate seat formerly held by Jane Orie, convicted of charges stemming from the use of state resources in campaigns.
Mr. Tusick, 26, an ad agency partner, said in the run-up to the voting that his job on the campaign trail was to highlight "bad decisions being made at our state level ... For instance, education cuts have been forcing tax increases on the local level."
But Mr. English, 49, an elder law attorney, was the one celebrating at what he said was "the second post-election party I've been to," the first being Mr. Vulakovich's celebration over the summer.
"I just think I have a lot of experience that people wanted to rely on to be their representative," Mr. English said. "My charge is to represent all of the residents, regardless of their political affiliation."
Democrat Erin Molchany of Mount Washington claimed victory early in the evening against Republican Chris Cratsley of Overbrook. Ms. Molchany will take the seat won by fellow Democrat Marty Schmotzer in an April special election, and previously held by Chelsa Wagner before she became Allegheny County's controller.
Ms. Molchany, 35, who used to direct the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project, credited her win to "all the hard work and commitment that we put in." She said the key issues were "reliable public transit. Coming up with some kind of a comprehensive transportation policy. And of course public education. There's a very evident commitment to public education in the district and beyond."
Mr. Cratsley, 31, a bank client service liaison, ran just a smidgen to Ms. Molchany's right, but didn't overcome the Democratic Party's edge in the district.
In the District 10 seat, spanning Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties, four-term incumbent Jaret Gibbons, D-Franklin, appeared to have edged out Republican Michael See in a battle of the thirtysomethings.
Mr. See, 31, of North Sewickley Township, who works in human resources for a steel manufacturer, said in the campaign's closing days that Mr. Gibbons, 32, of Ellwood City, "has been too often pushed by party bosses and by donors to take votes that don't help our district."
But big margins in Lawrence County saved the Democrat, who said voters "saw past all of the negative attacks" and looked instead at the sense of optimism driven by gas drilling, a potential new shale cracker plant and a planned race track.
Three-decade incumbent Democrat Joseph Markosek, 62, of Monroeville, faced down a vigorous challenge from Republican Mike Doyle, a 47-year-old insurance firm manager who is president of Plum's council. The Republican is not related to the Democratic congressman of the same name.
In Westmoreland County, District 55 incumbent Democrat Joseph Petrarca, of Washington Township, had an unusually tough challenge from Republican John Hauser, 33, of Latrobe. But Mr. Petrarca, 51, who was first elected in 1994, managed to avoid falling victim to Westmoreland County's increasingly GOP-friendly climate.
One beneficiary of the Republican wave of 2010, George Dunbar of Penn, fought off a challenger to earn a second term in the seat long held by Democrat James Casorio. Mr. Dunbar, 52, beat Democrat Raymond "Bud" Geissler Jr., 41, of Irwin, in the 56th District.
"What I heard [Tuesday] was the same thing I heard two years ago: We're spending too much money. We need to address the problems we have out there," Mr. Dunbar said. "I myself need to be more of a leader, more vocal."
District 15 incumbent Jim Christiana, R-Beaver, beat Bob Williams. District 20 incumbent Adam Ravenstahl, D-Summer Hill, won easily over Jim Barr. District 32 incumbent Anthony DeLuca, D-Penn Hills, beat Lawrence Paladin. District 33 incumbent Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, fought off Gerry Vaerewyck. District 45 incumbent Nick Kotik, D-Robinson, doubled the vote count of Aaron Kime. District 49 incumbent Peter Daley II, D-California, edged out Richard Massafra. District 51 incumbent Tim Mahoney, D-South Union, beat Gary Gearing. District 54 incumbent Eli Evankovich, R-Murrysville, won against Patrick Leyland. District 57 incumbent Tim Krieger, R-Delmont, beat Andrew Gales.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord. Janice Crompton contributed.