For weeks, no one was sure whether the Democrat or Republican had won the race. Ultimately, a contentious recount reversed the apparent result that had been announced on election night.
No, it wasn't the disputed 2000 presidential election, but the battle for Pennsylvania's 156th Legislative District in Chester County. In the end, Democrat Barbara McIlvaine Smith defeated Republican Shannon Royer by a mere 28 votes.
Far more was riding on that result than just which candidate would represent the district in Harrisburg. With that win, the Democrats captured a 102 to 101 majority in the House — a margin so slim that it actually led to the unprecedented development of a Republican speaker, state Rep. Dennis O'Brien (R-District 169) presiding over a Democratic-led body.
Now both parties are gearing up for a rematch between the same two candidates.
Lots of Questions Remain
Questions to be settled include: Can the Democrats capitalize on national voter resentment against Republicans, increase their majority and make it easier for Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell to move his ambitious agenda on health care and energy policy through the House? Would such a shift give them the votes to elect their own speaker?
Or can the Republicans gain momentum from "Bonusgate" — the allegations that Democratic staffers and lawmakers improperly used public money to finance campaign work — and thus retake the chamber?
"Outside of Harrisburg, and possibly one or two districts in the western part of the state, Bonusgate is not really playing with voters," said Abe Amoros, political and communications director for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. "We are confident that we are not only going to maintain the majority, but will increase it by a few members."
Al Bowman, spokesman for the House Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, agreed that the drama over indictments will not have a large impact on races in the southeast, where the ultimate result may be decided. Bowman acknowledged that John McCain's recent slide in statewide polls hasn't helped GOP chances, but he said that candidates are focusing on local issues and targeting swing voters in the region.
A Fiscally Conservative Policy
"We are pretty confident of our chances of taking back the House," said Bowman. "We are trying to get voters to focus on the economy. The fiscally conservative ideology holds our party together. You can't improve the economic situation by raising taxes."
Several Jewish candidates are seeking legislative seats and running in races that could determine the balance of power in Harrisburg.
On the GOP ticket, Lynne Lechter — a member of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El, and a former board member of HIAS and Council Migration Service — is running for the seat being vacated by state Rep. Daylin Leach (D-District 149), who is running for an open state Senate seat. Lechter, an attorney, is facing Democrat Tim Briggs, an Upper Merion Township resident, who is also a lawyer.
Also in Montgomery County, Democrat Steve Rovner is challenging state Rep. Scott Petri (R-District 178), who was first elected in 2002. Petri sits on the House Appropriations Committee. Rovner is the son of former state Sen. Bob Rovner. Earlier this year, the elder Rovner abandoned a run for Congress, saying he wanted to devote his time to helping his son win office.
Other Races of Interest
In Chester County, Democrat Paul Drucker — a former president of Or Shalom in Berwyn, who once served as assistant district attorney of Philadelphia under Arlen Specter — is running to succeed eight-term incumbent Carole Rubley (R-District 157), who is retiring. Drucker is campaigning against Republican Guy Ciarrocchi, who is chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-District 6).
Several Jewish incumbents, including state Rep. Mike Gerber (D-District 148) and state Rep. Babette Josephs (D-District 182), are facing opponents, but are expected to win re-election.