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Democrats win key election in Pennsylvania state House to retain control of chamber

Controlling the state House allows Democrats to block Republican efforts to ban abortion and claw back power from the governor.

By Emily Singer - September 20, 2023
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Lindsay Powell, Democratic candidate in a special election to fill a vacant Pennsylvania House seat, visits with campaign workers on the Northside of Pittsburgh, Sept. 9, 2023.
Lindsay Powell, Democratic candidate in a special election to fill a vacant Pennsylvania House seat, visits with campaign workers on the Northside of Pittsburgh, Sept. 9, 2023. Democrats will retain their one-vote majority in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives after voters in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023 elected former congressional aide Lindsay Powell. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar file)

Former congressional aide Lindsay Powell won a special election to a state House seat in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, ensuring that Democrats will maintain their narrow 102-101 seat majority in the chamber.

Powell, a Democrat, defeated Republican Erin Connolly Autenreith in the Pittsburgh-based 21st House District by a margin of 65% to 35%.

With control of the state House, Democrats can block Republicans from passing abortion bans and stop efforts to strip power from Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro.

“Once again, voters rejected Pennsylvania Republicans’ radical policies, and for the fifth time this year, Democrats have won a crucial special election to hold the majority in the Pennsylvania House,” Heather Williams, interim president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said in a statement. “Republicans across the country are finding out what happens when they run against crucial access to reproductive health care and run towards attacking Americans’ fundamental freedoms.”

Powell campaigned on a promise to pass laws to deal with gun violence, address child care costs, and make housing affordable.

Autenreith is an anti-vaccine, anti-transgender Republican and supporter of former President Donald Trump. Autenreith acknowledged that she was in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, and attended Trump’s speech that preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Powell was the odds-on favorite in the Democratic-leaning district.

However, her 30-point victory is wider than President Joe Biden’s 23-point win in 2020, according to data from Daily Kos Elections.

It’s the latest race in which Democrats have overperformed the 2020 election margin, which experts say is a sign that Democrats could do better than expected in future elections.

“Following a historic midterm in which the DLCC picked up four new legislative majorities, we’ve seen our momentum continue in 2023 with special election wins and overperformance across the country,” Williams said.

In a victory speech Tuesday night, Powell vowed to work to make government “something that we are proud of,” according to a local Pittsburgh NPR affiliate. “This is not just about the 21st District. This is about the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

With a one-seat majority, Pennsylvania Democrats have been able to pass a number of progressive bills this year, including bills that would raise the state’s minimum wage and codify worker’s collective bargaining rights.

However, Republicans still control the Pennsylvania state Senate, which allowed them to prevent those bills from making it to Shapiro’s desk.

With the House majority, Democrats were able to block Republican efforts to roll back voting rights by passing voter ID laws and to put a constitutional amendment against abortion on the ballot. Constitutional amendments must pass both chambers of the Pennsylvania Legislature in two consecutive legislative sessions before they can be placed on the ballot.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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