Democrat Heather Boyd has won a special election for a vacant seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives – giving Democrats the victory they needed to retain control of the chamber.
The race in the 163rd state House District was called by The Associated Press Tuesday night. The Delaware County contest, which pitted Boyd against Republican Katie Ford, drew the attention of President Joe Biden and attracted a flood of campaign spending from both sides of the aisle, decides control of the state House for now, with Democrats holding 102 – one more than Republicans.
Boyd thanked supporters in a Facebook post Tuesday night. “I am so humbled by the faith you have placed in me to represent our community in Harrisburg, and I promise that I will fight for you every single day,” Boyd said.
Sharif Street, a state senator who is chair of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, congratulated Boyd Tuesday night.
“With the majority on the line, this was a race with huge stakes,” Street said in a statement. “Heather Boyd’s victory will once again protect a Democratic majority in the Pennsylvania state house and enable us to continue to protect a woman’s right to choose, ensure the right to vote, and create a Pennsylvania with opportunities for all.”
The seat was vacated in March when Democratic state Rep. Mike Zabel resigned after multiple women accused him of sexual harassment, forcing Democrats to try and hold their majority in the snap election. Republicans, meanwhile, had a fresh opportunity to try and flip the House in their favor.
Throughout the campaign, Republicans criticized Boyd over her knowledge of a 2019 incident where Zabel reportedly sexually harassed Service Employees International Union 32BJ lobbyist Andi Perez. In an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Boyd said she didn’t share her knowledge about the allegation at the behest of Perez, who is a friend of hers.
In one pro-Ford ad, Republican state Rep. Abby Major, who went public in March with her own accusations of sexual harassment against Zabel, suggested that Boyd should have done more to prevent Zabel from holding office.
“She had the power to stop him – she didn’t,” Major said in the ad.
Democrats, conversely, looked to make the race about abortion rights.
In a May 9 statement, Democratic state Rep. Leanne Krueger, who chairs the Pennsylvania House Democratic Campaign Committee, warned that Republicans could seek to advance a constitutional amendment declaring there is no right to abortion in the state constitution if Ford won the seat and gave the GOP the majority.
“We know that Republican leadership in the House will once again vote for the amendment should they win the majority,” Krueger said. “This election will determine if abortion remains legal in Pennsylvania.”
Democrats vastly outspent Republicans in the leadup to the special election, with Boyd spending $103,000 and the Pennsylvania Democratic Party spending $978,000 on Boyd’s behalf, according to the Inquirer. Ford, meanwhile, spent just $26,000 and accepted $16,000 in in-kind contributions, per the same report.
The high stakes prompted Biden to issue a key late endorsement of Boyd, with the president saying the election would “determine the future of so many fundamental freedoms that Pennsylvanians hold dear.”
Ultimately, the seat remained in Democratic hands, and Boyd – who works as a district director for U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, will head to Harrisburg.
Heading into Tuesday, Democrats held 101 seats in the 203-seat chamber, while Republicans had 100 seats.
The race in the 163rd House District was one of two special elections held Tuesday. The other race was in the 108th House District, which covers Montour, Northumberland and Snyder counties. The seat has been in Republican hands since 1973, according to House archives. Republican Michael Stender won the special election for the 108th House District, according to the AP.
The 163rd House District – which covers part of Delaware County – has historically been more competitive, as it was held by a Republican before Zabel won the seat in 2019.
Democrats regained control of the state House this year after spending 12 years in the minority.