Special Elections: What’s Next

HD-169, Denny O'Brien's old district in northeast Philly, will be the hardest fought special election.

The Supreme Court ordered Speaker Sam Smith to call special elections for the 6 vacant state House seats. Here’s a run down of what the ruling means, what comes next, and which party is likely to benefit.

Per the Court’s previous ruling, the current lines, drawn in 2001, will remain in use for these elections. These elections will be held concurrently with the primary, currently scheduled for April 24.

The name of the game for Republicans is to hold at least 2 of the 6 seats. Democrats want to increase their net advantage in the House. Republicans currently have a 110 to 87 majority meaning that the House GOP needs 99 votes to pass legislation. When all 6 vacancies are filled, they will need 102. And if 4 or more seats are filled by Democrats – as is likely – they will require slightly stricter discipline within their own caucus.

In special elections, candidates are chosen by party leaders. For five of the six seats, the rules are relatively simple because the entire district is within one county. For the GOP, county party bylaws dictate the selection process (typically conferees comprised of committee members who reside in the district). For Dems, the state party technically has jurisdiction but usually defaults to the recommendation of the county committees.

In the 134th district, which comprises parts of Berks and Lehigh counties, Republican county party leaders will select conferees whose distribution is related to each county’s proportion of voter turnout in 2010. Those conferees will in turn select a candidate. Democrats have just one candidate on the ballot, but their state party will similarly select a representative group of committee members from each county to confer on the nominee.

Both parties must now select their candidates for the special election. In every case, the likely special election candidate is already on the ballot in his or her district for the general election. And with the party’s resources invested in making sure they win the special election, odds are they win their primary contests further down the ballot.

State of the Races

Safe Dem:

HD-22: The Allegheny County Democrats endorsed Martin Schmotzer for the general election two weeks ago; they’re almost certain to choose him as their special election candidate. He’d replace now Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner.

HD-186: The primary field to replace seat of now Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson is crowded and tough to guess. But Jordan Harris in Johnson’s guy, and stands the strongest shot to get the nod.

HD-197: Likewise, there is a crowded field to replace now Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams. But two names stick out. The first is Jewel Williams, the former State Rep.’s daughter (one “L”). The second is Milton Street, the brother of the former mayor and himself a candidate for mayor in 2011. Insiders give the edge to Williams.

Lean Dem:

HD-153: The seat of new Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro is a likely hold for Democrats barring a surge in GOP turnout as a result of more interesting Republican primaries.

Republicans are fond of their recruit, Nick Mattiachi, an attorney from Elkins Park who they say has a similar profile to Shapiro when he won the seat nearly a decade ago. Another Republican, Ron Holt, withdrew from the race.

“Nick is a very well-qualified, energetic, community-minded individual who has already shown great promise in the early stages of his campaign,” said House Republican Campaign Committee Executive Director Chad Weaver. “Anybody who thinks this is a safe Democratic seat is in for a surprise.”

Democrats feel confident with their candidate, Medeleine Dean. She’s an attorney, an Abington Township Commissioner and currently she teaches at LaSalle University.

Toss Up:

HD-169: The seat of now Philadelphia City Councilman Denny O’Brien, will be the hardest-fought race. Republicans are likely to nominate Dave Kralle, a long time staffer and political apprentice to O’Brien, over fellow Republican John McCann.

Democrats have Ed Neilson, a former political director in IBEW 5. They will stand a strong chance at a pickup if the politically powerful electricians union goes all in. With little else going on in the way of primaries in the City this spring, that looks likely.

“We’re looking seriously at the 169th,” said House Democratic Campaign Committee Executive Director Ethan Smith, who characterized it as a tossup. “It’s been represented by a Republican for a long time.”

In any case, O’Brien’s penchant for voting across party lines means a pickup in the seat wouldn’t make much of a difference on most floor votes – just the leadership election.

Strong GOP:

HD-134: The seat of now Lehigh County judge Doug Reichley, is the only one that crosses county lines (Lehigh and Berks counties).

There are 5 Republicans on the ballot, though several have reportedly said that they will drop if they are not selected as the special election candidate. Ryan MacKenzie of South Whitehall is the name we’re hearing the most. The other four are Wanda Mercado-Arroyo, Arlene Badrow, Rob Hamill and Dennis Nemes, each from Lower Macungie Township. Mercado-Arroyo is facing a petition challenge.

The lone Democrat on the ballot is Patrick Slattery.

  • Do You Agree With the Supreme Court Decision to Overturn Roe v. Wade?

    • No. (50%)
    • Yes. (47%)
    • Not Sure (3%)

    Total Voters: 109

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