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Can Democrats flip the Pennsylvania Senate for a ‘trifecta’?

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Can Democrats flip the Pennsylvania Senate for a ‘trifecta’?

Apr 02, 2024 | 6:31 am ET
By Kim Lyons
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Can Democrats flip the Pennsylvania Senate for a ‘trifecta’?
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The ceiling of the main Rotunda inside Pennsylvania’s Capitol building. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).

In 2022, Democrats regained control of the Pennsylvania House, a razor-thin majority that has survived several special elections since. Now, the party is eyeing the tantalizingly close margin in the state Senate, where Republicans hold 28 seats, and Democrats hold 22. If they were able to win a majority, or even reach a tie in the Senate, Democrats would have a trifecta in state government, with control of the governor’s office and both chambers of the General Assembly. 

“There’s certainly opportunity, but also, more importantly, there’s momentum,” Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) told the Capital-Star. “ And I think winds are blowing in our favor, as relates to our ability to be able to flip the Senate.” 

Democrats need to flip three seats for a tie, and four for a majority. But even a tie gives Democrats an edge in the upper chamber, since Democratic Lt. Gov Austin Davis would cast the tie breaking vote in the event of a stalemate.

The Pennsylvania Senate Republican Campaign Committee said in a statement to the Capital-Star that defending its majority is its top priority.

“We’re working diligently to highlight our Republican incumbent Senators’ achievements while contrasting it to the Democrat agenda that results in higher inflation and increased crime,” the PA SRCC said. “We have finished recruiting a terrific slate of candidates across the Commonwealth to not only defend our open seats but to go on offense in competitive seats. The voters have a clear choice this November. And when the dust settles, we are confident they’ll keep the state Senate in Republican hands.”

Abhi Rahman, of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) told the Capital-Star that with half of the Senate being up for reelection this cycle and the other half next cycle, the organization’s goal is to make gains this cycle. “We consider the Pa. senate one of our ‘multi-cycle’ plays,” Rahman said. 

That multi-cycle strategy includes “setting the stage for new Democratic trifectas” as would be the case in Pennsylvania, and taking advantage of special elections. That’s something Pennsylvania Democrats did most recently in the House, when Rep. Jim Prokopiak (D-Bucks) was elected in February following the resignation of Rep. John Galloway, who was elected district judge. 

“Capitalizing on opportunities this year will best position Democrats to flip the chamber in 2026, when the other half of the seats will be in play,” according to the DLCC’s strategy memo

But Costa says Democrats have identified three seats they think they can flip, and one where the party would need to play defense. He added that Democrats plan to be on offense more than they were two years ago. 

If they’re able to pull it off, it would be the first time Democrats controlled the state Senate in more than 30 years.

Here are the Pennsylvania Legislative districts that will have competitive primaries in April

 

Senate District 15, which includes a large chunk of Dauphin County, was redistricted in 2022 giving Democrats “an outstanding chance to be successful there,” Costa said. Incumbent Republican Sen. John DiSanto is not seeking reelection, and state Rep. Patty Kim (D-Dauphin), announced her candidacy in October. 

Harrisburg pastor Alvin Q. Taylor is also seeking the Democratic nomination in PA-15. Dauphin County treasurer Nick DiFrancesco and Army veteran Ken Stambaugh are seeking the GOP nomination for the seat. 

Senate District 45, in Allegheny County, is also an open seat but in this instance Democrats will have to play defense, after Sen. Jim Brewster (D-McKeesport) announced he would retire at the end of the year. 

State Rep. Nick Pisciottano (D-Allegheny) and Makenzie White, a licensed social worker and community organizer, are both seeking the party’s nomination. On the Republican side, security firm owner Jennifer Dintini and Kami Stulginskas of Munhall are running for the GOP nomination.

It’s also another seat where redistricting favors Democrats, Costa said, after conservative Westmoreland County was excised from the district. 

Senate District 37 in Allegheny County, is another of the districts where Costa is optimistic, even though redistricting there doesn’t necessarily guarantee a Democratic victory. The seat has flipped parties four times since 2012. Incumbent GOP Sen. Devlin Robinson flipped the seat in 2020 and is seeking reelection. His Democratic challenger is teacher Nicole Ruscitto of Jefferson Hills. 

Senate District 49, in Erie County, flipped to Republicans when Sen. Dan Laughlin was elected in 2016, and reelected in 2020. Two Democrats are seeking to run against Laughlin; Erie County Democratic Party Chair Jim Wertz announced his campaign in December; and Selena King, a former staffer for U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa) former chairperson of the Erie County Democratic Party’s Black Caucus

Costa said those seats represent Democrats’ “pathway to 25,” in the state Senate. “I think part of the momentum we’re building comes from the House, and part from the redistricting that has taken place, and the creation of more Democratic seats,” he said. “It sets us to be poised to be successful once that occurs.”

The legislature returns to session April 8. Pennsylvania’s primary election is April 23.