Normally, we don't pay a lot of attention to special elections in the summer for state House races, but a week from tomorrow there is an important one in HD-21 in Western Pennsylvania. Currently the Pennsylvania state House is exactly split 101D, 101R, with one vacancy. That is the one on the ballot next week. Whichever party wins the special election will control the state House. Republicans control the state Senate 28 to 22, so if the Republican wins the special election, the GOP will control the state legislature and can pass any bill it wants to. However, Gov. Josh Shapiro (D-PA) will veto many of them. But some bills, like budget bills, must eventually pass, so full control of the legislature will give the Republicans a lot of leverage. On the other hand, if the Democrat wins the special election, the two chambers will have to compromise to get any bill to Shapiro's desk. So the HD-21 special election is actually quite important.
The special election arose because former state Rep. Sara Innamorato (D)—a young (37) white progressive Democrat—resigned earlier this year to run for Allegheny County executive. The district comprises parts of Pittsburgh. It also contains two nearby townships and two boroughs, all just north of the Allegheny River. In Pennsylvania, a borough is a municipality smaller than a city. There are 956 of them in Pennsylvania. Townships are unincorporated areas outside the cities and boroughs. Democrats have a substantial voter registration edge in HD-21, but turnout in special elections is generally low, so it matters who shows up to vote next week.
The Democrat is Lindsay Powell (32). She is Black. After getting her masters degree, she was a Fulbright Scholar teaching English in Malaysia. When she came back to the U.S. she was an intern with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and then a staffer working on constituent services for Chuck Schumer. Later she had a stint as a legislative fellow working in the office of Hakeem Jeffries. She works for a nonprofit and is on the board of the Urban Redevelopment Authority. After working for and with politicians for a few years, she decided to become one herself. Her issues are social justice and equity.
The Republican nominee is Erin Connolly Autenreith (65). She is white. She is a real estate saleswoman and also runs a singles group for people over 40. Her big issue is education. She supports taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools. She doesn't want to take a position on abortion and says there should be a referendum on it. Why is a real estate agent running for the state House? Well, both of her parents were politicians. Her father was mayor of a small town (pop. 6,000). Her mother was on a borough council.
Due to the lean of the district, any Democrat is theoretically the favorite, but the people most likely to vote for an older white woman are also the most likely to show up for a low-profile special election. The people most likely to support Powell (young Black voters) are the least likely to show up for a low-profile election. So anything is possible. (V)