Pam Iovino Senate Democrat wins, confirmed to lead the Department

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Pam Iovino Senate Democrat wins, confirmed to lead the Department.

The last time Pam Iovino was subject to a high-stakes vote tally, it was 2004 and she was unanimously confirmed to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs congressional and legislative affairs offices.

On Tuesday, the Democrat and Navy veteran was elected to the Pennsylvania state Senate, besting Republican D. Raja in a special election after a bruising two-month campaign that garnered national attention along the way.

During the race, Ms. Iovino, 62, of Mt. Lebanon, told voters in the 37th District that her two decades-plus in the Navy and subsequent stint in the executive branch would make her the right fit for the Legislature. In the district spanning Allegheny County’s western and southern suburbs and Peters Township, a majority of voters endorsed that message at the polls.

“Thank you all for what you just did. What you just did: SD 37 is blue again,” Ms. Iovino told a packed room of supporters at a carpenters’ union in Robinson.

The election, which was expected to be close and possibly decided by a few hundred votes, was officially decided when Mr. Raja conceded to Ms. Iovino by phone at around 9:30 p.m. As of 10:10 p.m., she was about 4,000 votes ahead with 94 percent of precincts counted.

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At that point, Democrats in Pennsylvania got what they had hoped for: another jolt of momentum heading into the 2020 election cycle, when they’ll now need just three seats to flip the Senate blue and take a chamber in what’s currently a Republican-controlled Legislature.

“This win is a credit to a candidate, a great campaign, and and amazing grassroots volunteer effort,” said David Marshall, executive director of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Campaign Committee. “Continuing in communities like this show a fundamental shift in state politics, and highlight why Democrats have a crystal clear path to pick up three more seats next year and take control of the state Senate.”

on the need to keep young people in the region, proposing that a greater focus on workforce training could help fill the many jobs that are already available here.

She also said she’d fight to alleviate the property tax burden by making corporations pay their fair share and by supporting a severance tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling — a revenue stream, she said, that could be used to help fund schools and infrastructure.

Her opponent staked most of his campaign on his opposition to a severance tax. Mr. Raja, a first-generation immigrant and South Hills businessman, asserted that Pennsylvania could see billions in GDP growth, thousands of new jobs and billions in revenue by letting the energy sector grow.

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“I offered a vision of jobs for the region, and I hope that she — I know that she — will do the same for our region, make our region prosperous going forward,” Mr. Raja said in an address to supporters at a restaurant in Upper St. Clair.

Since both candidates won their parties’ respective nominations in late January, they had to move quickly to mobilize staffers and secure endorsements. Ms. Iovino quickly won the backing of numerous organized labor unions.

Deeming the race the first opportunity anywhere in the U.S. for Democrats to flip a seat red-to-blue before presidential election season, Democratic activist groups from across the country took notice of the race’s significance. Some made phone calls. Others wrote postcards to district voters.

While Republicans hoped they could stave off Democratic momentum in the suburbs that Donald Trump carried in 2016, Democrats hoped Ms. Iovino could tap into the same energy that carried Conor Lamb to victory in his bid for Congress last year — in territory overlapping the 37th district.

Like Mr. Lamb, Ms. Iovino is a veteran. A native of Whitehall, she was first commissioned a Navy ensign in 1980, worked her way up to lieutenant and, after completing a tour of duty, took over as the first female commander at Toledo’s Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center.

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After retiring from the Navy in 2003, she was nominated by President George W. Bush to the post on Capitol Hill. She then returned to Allegheny County where, most recently, she served as its director of veterans services.

The only other time she’s run for political office, she lost the Democratic nomination to Mr. Lamb in the special election for the 18th Congressional District, which he’d go on to win. In this race, Ms. Iovino emerged from a field of three candidates to win the primary, decided by Democratic committee-members.

The race was short but contentious, and both candidates ran blistering attack ads against one another. Ms. Iovino criticized Mr. Raja’s business record. Mr. Raja labeled her an “extremist” in lockstep with Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

To that, Ms. Iovino responded that she didn’t know a single Democrat who hadn’t faced that attack from Republicans, and that she had been pragmatic and bipartisan throughout her career.

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