Special election in western Pennsylvania to determine if Democrats or GOP take control of the House

Sep 9, 2023, 9:04 PM

Erin Connolly Autenreith, Republican candidate in a special election to fill a vacant Pennsylvania ...

Erin Connolly Autenreith, Republican candidate in a special election to fill a vacant Pennsylvania House seat, sits at a coffee shop in the strip district of downtown Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. Majority control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives will once again come down to a special election later this month. Republican voters face a strongly Democratic lean in a Pittsburgh district to flip power back to their caucus. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)


Photos PAGP501-504

Majority control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives will again come down to a special election later this month, when Republican voters attempt to flip power back to their caucus while facing a strongly Democratic lean in a Pittsburgh district.

The race pits a former Democratic congressional staffer against the daughter of two local officials who were politically active.

Democrat Lindsay Powell, 32, and Republican Erin Connolly Autenreith, 65, will face off for the Allegheny County state House seat on Sept. 19, one week before the chamber is scheduled to return to floor session in Harrisburg.

They are vying to replace a progressive Democrat, former state Rep. Sara Innamorato, who resigned in July to seek the county executive job. Her departure left the House at a 101-101 tie.

The district is a Democratic stronghold Democratic strategists predict their party will be able to retain. A previous special election in which the Republican candidate lost by a wide margin may be why the GOP hasn’t drained its coffers to try to flip the seat, said Trevor Southerland, House Democratic campaign strategist.

“Because it’s a special (election), it would be easier for them to do in a general, but they’d have to be up on TV, they’d have to have an army of field organizers knocking on doors, ton of mailers and digital ads,” he said. “We’re just not seeing that.”

Republicans in Allegheny County know they are fighting an uphill battle.

“Even in a regular election year, it would be very, very difficult for a Republican to win this. However it remains to be seen how the electorate feels,” said Sam DeMarco, chair of the Republican Committee of Allegheny County, adding that Autenreith “is working very hard.”

Powell is seeking office for the first time but jokes she has worked in every job in government except for the one she is seeking. She previously worked as an aide to U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, both New York Democrats.

Constituents say they want more affordable housing, a strong local economy and improved community assets, Powell said.

“People are concerned about making sure they can stay in their community and make Pittsburgh home, and keep Pittsburgh home,” she said.

Several Democrat-led initiatives, such as whole home repair and broader protections for LGBTQ+ people, were critical pieces of legislation that didn’t move until Democrats reclaimed control of the state House earlier this year, she said.

“We won’t continue to see this progress if we don’t retain it,” Powell said.

Democrats barely flipped the number of districts needed to control the House in November. It was their first claim to the majority in 12 years, with a 102-101 margin they have since maintained through several special elections. Having first-year Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro in office has aided their agenda.

This year, Democrats have used their newfound power to advance a number of the caucus’ priorities. But the Legislature remains politically divided, with a firm Republican majority in the Senate that has sought to advance its own priorities, including school vouchers and constitutional amendments. Passing such measures would be easier with a favorable House.

Autenreith’s potential election, flipping party control to the Republicans, would not change things very much in the Capitol, she said.

“I think it would boost the Republican Party, of course, but that’s not the reason I’m running,” she said.

Autenreith comes from a political background: Her father was a mayor of McKees Rocks near Pittsburgh and her mother served on a borough council. She previously ran for the state House in 2000 but lost to the Democrat seeking reelection. Autenreith currently serves as Republican committee chair in Shaler.

Education is a central political issue for her, she said. Autenreith supports vouchers for private school and said she thinks education is vital to get at other challenges facing the district, including housing and crime.

“I think there’s going to be a shift in this country in the next year or two because it’s hit a boiling point,” she said. “People don’t want to live like this, live to be afraid to go downtown, to go to major events.”

The House isn’t due back until a week after the special election decides the fate of the majority, leaving aspects of the final state budget undone. Innamorato’s departure makes advancing measures on party-line votes more difficult for Democrats.

Innamorato won a contested Democratic primary for Allegheny’s county executive in May as part of a progressive slate in local elections. She will face the lone Republican primary contender, Joseph Rockey, in the November general election.

Another Democratic state representative, longtime Bucks County incumbent John Galloway, is running for district judge, meaning early next year the Democrats will likely face another race in which their majority is at stake.


Brooke Schultz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

National News

Associated Press

UN to vote on resolution to authorize one-year deployment of armed force to help Haiti fight gangs

The U.N. Security Council is scheduling a vote Monday on a resolution that would authorize a one-year deployment of an international force to help Haiti quell a surge in gang violence and restore security so the troubled Caribbean nation can hold long-delayed elections. The U.S.-drafted resolution obtained by The Associated Press on Saturday welcomes Kenya’s […]

16 minutes ago

Associated Press

The police chief who led a raid of a small Kansas newspaper has been suspended

The police chief who led a highly criticized raid of a small Kansas newspaper has been suspended, the mayor confirmed to The Associated Press on Saturday. Marion Mayor Dave Mayfield in a text said he suspended Chief Gideon Cody on Thursday. He declined to discuss his decision further and did not say whether Cody was […]

3 hours ago

FILE - Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., listens to fellow speakers before President Joe Biden speaks on ...

Associated Press

Rep. Jamaal Bowman triggered a fire alarm in a House office building amid voting on a funding bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman acknowledged triggering a fire alarm Saturday in one of the U.S. Capitol office buildings as lawmakers scrambled to pass a bill to fund the government before the midnight shutdown deadline. The fire alarm sounded out around noon in the Cannon House Office Building and prompted a building-wide evacuation […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Federal agency sues Chipotle after a Kansas manager allegedly ripped off an employee’s hijab

A federal agency has sued the restaurant chain Chipotle, accusing it of religious harassment and retaliation after a manager at a Kansas location forcibly removed an employee’s hijab, a headscarf worn by some Muslim women. In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged that in 2021, an assistant manager at a Chipotle […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Virginia ex-superintendent convicted of misdemeanor in firing of teacher

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia jury has convicted a former schools superintendent on a misdemeanor charge in connection with what prosecutors said was the retaliatory firing of a teacher who reported that an elementary school student inappropriately touched her. Former Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Ziegler was acquitted on a separate misdemeanor count […]

5 hours ago

Doris Peters calls voters during a phone bank event Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, at the Republican Par...

Associated Press

Anti-abortion groups are at odds on strategies ahead of Ohio vote. It could be a preview for 2024

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Abortion opponents in Ohio are at odds not only over how to frame their opposition to a reproductive rights initiative on the state’s November ballot but also over their longer-term goals on how severely they would restrict the procedure. The disagreements, roiling the anti-abortion side just six weeks before Election Day, […]

9 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

Special election in western Pennsylvania to determine if Democrats or GOP take control of the House