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Democrats build on midterm wins with new control of Pennsylvania House

Even in 2023, Democrats are still winning the 2022 midterms.

Josh Shapiro points while giving a speech, a mic in front of him.
Now-Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro gives a victory speech to supporters at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center on November 8, 2022 in Oaks, Pennsylvania.
Mark Makela/Getty Images
Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

Democrats have just notched yet another win at the state level after a strong showing in the 2022 midterm, claiming control of the Pennsylvania House.

Democrats followed statehouse takeovers in Minnesota and Michigan by winning all three special elections in the Pennsylvania state House Tuesday. Those victories gave them a one-seat majority and brought a close to the conflict for control of the chamber that has persisted since November. It was an upset: Redistricting had made the electoral map more competitive for Democrats, and the Pennsylvania House was rated “leans Republican” ahead of the November election by Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Democrats haven’t controlled the chamber since 2010.

And it’s another moment of reckoning for Republicans in a critical swing state, which also sent two Democrats to the US Senate for the first time in more than 70 years and saw Democrat Josh Shapiro win the governorship by nearly 15 points over his Republican opponent, election denier Doug Mastriano.

The result builds on Democrats’ success in state capitols in the midterms. The party previously struggled to compete with more than a decade of Republican dominance at the state level. It was the first time since 1934 that the party of the incumbent president didn’t lose a single state legislative chamber. In fact, they gained five. Democratic state legislatures now govern more people than those controlled by Republicans, even though the GOP still won marginally more seats in 2022 overall.

All three of the seats that Democrats won in Pennsylvania were in traditionally blue Allegheny County. In the 32nd district, Joe McAndrew, previously the executive director of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, will replace the late Tony DeLuca, also a Democrat. In the 34th district, Abigail Salisbury, an attorney and Swissvale Borough Council president, will fill the vacancy left by US Rep. Summer Lee. And in the 35th district, Matt Gergely, finance director for the city of McKeesport, will fill the vacancy left by current lieutenant governor Austin Davis.

With their newfound House majority, Pennsylvania Democrats will now be able to vote down further restrictions on abortion, including a proposal that would limit public funding of health care centers that perform abortions advanced by Republicans. And they will be able to reject a measure that could have gone on the ballot in 2023 to amend the state constitution to declare there is “no constitutional right to taxpayer-funded abortion or other right relating to abortion.”

“Voters rejected the radical policies of the Pennsylvania GOP, and with these wins… Democrats stand ready to hold these MAGA extremists accountable at every turn,” said Heather Williams, interim president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the fundraising arm of the Democratic Party dedicated to state legislative races.

Even so, Pennsylvania will have a divided government: Shapiro won the governor’s race, and Republicans maintained control of the state Senate. That could limit the realm of what’s possible from a policy standpoint, especially since even a single defection from party ranks in the House could doom any given Democratic agenda item.

Pennsylvania Democrats are already managing expectations in that regard. They’re projecting that they won’t be able to codify Roe v. Wade after the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn it last year, but hope that on labor and the economy, they have a real opportunity to achieve reforms because those are areas of wide agreement in the caucus and where they might even be able to attract some Republican votes.

“We’ll be able to dodge so many bullets just by going from defense to offense,” Lee told WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR News station. “We’ll get to move forward a workers’ rights agenda.”

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