The Democratic nominee for outgoing state Sen. John Pippy's seat outside Pittsburgh is dropping out of the race, likely making way for state Rep. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, to run.
If Democratic committee members from Allegheny and Washington counties agree on nominating Mr. Smith, it will set up an intriguing 37th District race between him and Republican businessman D. Raja, also of Mt. Lebanon. Mr. Raja beat state Rep. Mark Mustio in a brutal primary election in April after losing the Allegheny County executive race to Rich Fitzgerald last fall.
"People in the community, Democrats and Republicans alike, have approached me about running for the state Senate. I am flattered and appreciative of the support. I will talk with my family and will make a decision after considering it with them," Mr. Smith said.
The current Democratic nominee for the seat, Greg Parks, filed papers with state elections officials Friday withdrawing from the race. Democratic officials plan to meet Monday to discuss tapping a new candidate before the state's Aug. 13 deadline.
"It is with a heavy heart that today I must withdraw my name for personal reasons that will not allow me to continue the campaign," Mr. Parks said in a statement. "... I will closely follow the nomination process to fill the Democratic slot in this race and will offer my full support as Chair of the Pleasant Hills Democratic Committee to whoever is nominated -- beating Raja must be the highest priority for the person who succeeds me."
Mr. Parks had to run a write-in campaign to get on the ballot. Mr. Pippy, R-Moon, surprisingly announced he would not run again in January, after the first round of new state legislative maps was issued. Mr. Raja won the primary in a very negative race marked by racially-tinged ads run by the Mustio campaign that were criticized by Allegheny County GOP Jim Roddey and others.
"I look forward to a spirited race in the fall regardless of who the opponent ultimately will be. I will continue working hard to spread my message of getting Pennsylvania's economy back on track and I remain confident we will win in November," Mr. Raja said Friday.
The Republican's forces are criticizing the move as a backroom deal perpetrated by Democratic officials.
"Our campaign welcomes the contrast between a job creator and government reformer versus a state legislator whose record is out of step with the voters of the 37th Senatorial District," said Raja campaign manager Jennifer Hass. "The hand-selected candidate of party bosses, Matt Smith, will have to answer for his liberal record and support of policies that have hurt job creators preventing real economic recovery."
The district currently goes from northern communities along the Ohio River to the airport corridor through the South Hills to Peters in Washington County.
It looks to be a high-stakes election. Republicans currently outnumber Democrats 29-20 in the 50-seat state Senate -- an Aug. 7 special election will fill the empty 40th District seat formerly held by Jane Orie of McCandless -- so the minority party needs to flip five seats statewide to take away control of the chamber. Democrats are also seeking to flip Republican-controlled seats in Beaver and Erie counties, as well as others statewide.
Mr. Raja is lining up business support, securing endorsements from the Pennsylvania Business Council, the state's Chamber of Commerce and its National Federation of Independent Business chapter. The Scott software and IT company owner is poised to spend a good deal of money in the race, following the $1.4 million he spent in the executive race and the nearly $675,000 he has put into the Senate campaign.
Mr. Smith, who first won his House seat in 2006, would benefit from Democratic-performing parts of the district, especially in the South Hills. Mr. Fitzgerald beat Mr. Raja in the Senate district in the executive's race, piling up majorities in places like Avalon, South Park and Whitehall, while Mr. Raja did well in Aleppo, Sewickley and Upper St. Clair.
In an interesting twist, Mr. Smith defeated Mr. Raja's lead political consultant Mark Harris, also of Mt. Lebanon, in his initial 2006 election run for his 42nd state House seat.
Tim McNulty: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1581. Follow the Early Returns blog at earlyreturns.sites.post-gazette.com or on Twitter at @EarlyReturns. First Published June 30, 2012 4:00 AM