Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
The ease with which the Senate Republican majority can whip votes during budget season this year is on the line with a special election next week.
The outcome of the March 18 contest will determine who finishes out the last seven months of a resigned York County state Senator's term. Along with the Democratic candidate Linda Small, a retired Navy officer, two Republicans are vying for the seat: state Representative Ron Miller, the GOP nominee, and write-in candidate Scott Wagner, a businessman.
With that kind of intraparty contest, it's looking like quite the opportunity to the Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa.
"Democrats typically perform around 35 percent of the vote in that particular race, which leaves 60 percent for the other side," said Costa. "Quite frankly, if those sides split the vote, we can win."
But Republican Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said he doesn't think the Democrats have a chance.
"I'm not hearing anyone promote the superiority of the Democratic candidate," said Pileggi. "It seems like all this conversation is on some sort of a theory that a Democrat will sneak by."
Neither Senate Democratic leaders nor their staff could speak about Small's reputation or the most basic points of her biography when asked Monday. She ran for the state House twice and was defeated both times by Miller, now the GOP's selected candidate for the Senate seat special election.
The Senate Republicans' majority is already narrow, and it'll slip to a margin of two if Small wins. A Democratic victory could make it harder for the GOP to wrangle votes on budget-related measures this spring.
Whoever wins the seat will serve through November, the remainder of the term left by York County Sen. Mike Waugh. He stepped down in January to take a job with the Pennsylvania Farm Show.
But Costa said he hopes a Democratic win would bring with it some momentum going into the gubernatorial contest and the other legislative elections this fall.
"If we're successful - and we're doing everything we can to be successful - it'll send a very strong message going into the fall, the fall election, that we have an opportunity, that people are dissatisfied."
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