MT. LEBANON, Pa. (AP) — A two-month campaign for a vacant state Senate seat is coming to a close in politically divided suburban Pittsburgh where the sides are testing some national themes ahead of 2020’s presidential election in a critical battleground state narrowly won by President Donald Trump.
Tuesday’s contest pits Republican D. Raja against Democrat Pam Iovino for a seat largely controlled by Republicans the past half-century.
But the district is viewed as increasingly friendly to Democrats, as longtime Republican strongholds nearer the Steel City creep left and areas heavy with union households are shifting back after a rightward swing in recent decades.
The fight for the Senate seat is being watched for some hint of how voters feel about their president, even though the race itself has attracted little attention from inside the district: strategists on both sides expect turnout to be around 20 percent or about 42,000 voters.
In 2016, the district helped Trump become the first Republican since 1988 to capture Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes. Trump won it by 6 percentage points, even though Democrats have a registration edge, a legacy of socially conservative union members who have often voted Republican the past two or three decades.
But Democrats say their polling shows that Trump’s popularity in the district has slid. They even made an effort to tie Raja to Trump, sending a mailer that quotes Raja’s praise of Trump, shows a shadow outline of Trump’s face behind a side view photo of Raja’s face and questions: “Who does Raja really side with?”
To a great extent, the campaign has focused on the usual fare in Pennsylvania’s elections — the state’s booming natural gas industry, abortion rights, gun rights, jobs, and the minimum wage — and local issues, like a fight between two health care giants.
The candidates — Raja is the chief executive of an information technology consulting firm he helped start, and Iovino is a Navy veteran who held a top U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs post — have largely hewed to party-line stances, and Iovino has shied away from attacking Trump.
But Republicans especially have sought to stoke fervor by injecting national issues.
A Republican mailer in recent days links Raja to Trump, saying “a vote for Raja is a vote for President Trump’s agenda.”
In the campaign’s final hours Monday, the state Republican Party issued a robocall from Donald Trump Jr., urging listeners to vote for Raja and saying Iovino has a “liberal and extreme agenda” and supports “radical policies like New York’s late-term law, socialist medicine and the government taking more of our money.”
Iovino campaign strategist David Marshall said Republicans have run a “fact-free” campaign.
Republicans control the state Senate, 26-21.