Voters on Pittsburgh’s northern edge kept Democrats in control of the Pennsylvania House on Tuesday by choosing Lindsay Powell in the special election for the 21st legislative district.

The Associated Press called the race in favor of Powell shortly after polls closed at 8 p.m., breaking the temporary deadlock in the chamber that resulted from former state Rep. Sara Innamorato’s resignation. She left the post this summer to focus on her bid for Allegheny County executive.

The AP made the call on mail-in ballot results alone, uploaded by the county when polls closed. Powell won 82% of the reported mail-in votes, while Republican Erin Connolly Autenreith won 17%.

Powell, of Lawrenceville, works as director of workforce strategies for InnovatePGH. She will serve out the remainder of Innamorato’s term through 2024.

In a speech to supporters at her victory party in Etna, Powell said the win is an opportunity to fight for a government “we are proud of.”

“Right now, we have the opportunity to send a progressive Democrat to Harrisburg, but we know this isn’t about me and this isn’t about us,” Powell said. “It’s making sure that across this beautiful state, every single person has access to accessible and dignified housing. It’s making sure we have a strong, equitable local economy that we can all be part of, that we can all participate.”

Powell, who sits on the board of Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority, was backed by many of the area’s most influential Democrats, including U.S. Reps. Chris Deluzio and Summer Lee.

The race was a long shot for Autenreith, who chairs Shaler’s GOP. Of the more than 4,000 mail-in ballots submitted as of the day before the election, 83% were submitted by Democrats, according to county officials.

Lindsay Powell celebrates with supporters after her win in the special election for the vacant state House District 21 seat at her election night event, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023, at Rear End Gastropub and Garage in Etna. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Powell’s win garnered attention from across the country Tuesday night, as national Democratic activists lauded the party’s control of the House chamber.

With Powell’s victory, Democrats have a 102 to 101 majority in the House. Republicans control the state Senate, putting first-term Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro at the helm of a divided government.

According to the Associated Press, the legislative divide has stopped Democrats from passing broadened protections for LGBTQ+ people and gun control measures, while Republicans have been unable to implement voter ID measures.

Sam DeMarco, who chairs the Republican Committee of Allegheny County, praised his party’s candidate and discouraged Democrats from taking too much of a victory lap. He said it would be “disingenuous” to learn anything from this race.

“As I have been preaching since 2020, Republicans must use mail-in ballots and the 50 days of early voting to get our low and mid-propensity voters to the polls,” DeMarco told the Union Progress. “Anyone who still believes we can give Democrats 50 days to get out their vote and hope to overcome it solely on Election Day is sorely mistaken.”

This story will be updated.

Julian is the Western Pennsylvania politics and government bureau chief at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike.

Julian Routh

Julian is the Western Pennsylvania politics and government bureau chief at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike.