Pennsylvania Democrats pad narrow state House advantage with special election win

Pennsylvania Democrats pad narrow state House advantage with special election win © Provided by NBC News

Democrats won a state House special election in Pennsylvania on Tuesday night, preserving the party’s narrow majority in the closely watched battleground state, The Associated Press projected.

In the race for the open seat in the 140th state House District, Democrat Jim Prokopiak, a school board member in Bucks County, defeated Republican Candace Cabanas.

Prokopiak’s victory gives Democrats a narrow 102-100 majority in the state House, preventing another tie in the chamber.

The party had a one-seat majority, 102-101, before Democratic Rep. John Galloway resigned after he won a judgeship in November.

His departure created a tie. But another resignation Friday, by Republican Joe Adams, gave Democrats a fresh 101-100 advantage.

Republicans control the state Senate, while Democrats hold the governorship.

The win in Bucks County — a purple slice of the northern suburbs of Philadelphia — was hailed as positive news by national Democrats, some of whom had viewed the contest as an early bellwether of the party’s fortunes among suburban voters ahead of the 2024 election.

Even the Biden campaign weighed in on the victory, touting it as evidence that Bucks County voters would reject Donald Trump in the fall.

“With control of the state House on the line, Pennsylvanians again defeated Republicans’ anti-abortion agenda and voted for Jim Prokopiak, a Democrat who has stood up for women and working people,” Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said in a statement.

Heather Williams, the president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said that “this victory is a promising sign for Democrats up and down the ballot this year — it’s clear that momentum is on our side.”

“Voters want representatives who protect their fundamental freedoms, which is why electing Democrats to legislatures across the country is so important,” added Williams, whose group, the national Democratic arm in charge of funding candidates for state legislative races, invested in the contest.

In an interview ahead of the race, Williams also said that the race, “more broadly,” was “about the larger landscape for Democrats and our opportunities in 2024.”

Prokopiak had focused on pocketbook issues during his brief campaign window, but he also frequently leaned into the role a Democratic majority in the state House would play in protecting abortion rights in the state.

In an interview ahead of the race, he said that the winner of the race “would be the deciding vote to pass” or block abortion restrictions in Pennsylvania.

Following his victory Tuesday night, Prokopiak said in a statement that voters had told him during the campaign that they “need help supporting their families” and “want control over their own bodies.”

“I’m committed to taking my conversations with voters to Harrisburg and making their dreams a reality,” he added.

While the 140th District leans blue, it’s part of a key swing county.

Galloway, who had held the seat for 16 years until he resigned, ran unopposed in 2022 and defeated his Republican opponent in 2020 by 20 points.

In the 2020 presidential race, Joe Biden won Bucks County by just over 17,000 votes, or by about 4.4 percentage points, while in 2016, Hillary Clinton won it by fewer than 2,000 votes. Biden’s margin of victory in 2020 and Clinton’s in 2016 were larger in the 140th District in those years.

The race is the seventh special election in the state House in the past year, with partisan control of the closely divided chamber often seesawing with the results. Democrats won five of the six special elections in state House seats last year.

Prokopiak’s win means he will serve the rest of the term (through the end of the year) and will have to run again for re-election in November.