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Smith defeats Raja in state Senate race

JC Schisler | Tribune-Review - Republican State Senate candidate D. Raja divides his election literature from his campaign amongst his two daughters Omisa, 8, and Isana, 11, so they could distribute them to voters outside the polls at Jefferson Elementary School in Mt. Lebanon on election day Tuesday morning.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> JC Schisler | Tribune-Review</em></div>Republican State Senate candidate D. Raja divides his election literature from his campaign amongst his two daughters Omisa, 8, and Isana, 11, so they could distribute them to voters outside the polls at Jefferson Elementary School in Mt. Lebanon on election day Tuesday morning.
JC Schisler | Tribune-Review - Republican State Senate candidate D. Raja (left) and his wife Neeta (right) vote while his two daughters Isana, 11, and Omisa, 8, observe inside Jefferson Elementary School in Mt. Lebanon on election day Tuesday morning.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> JC Schisler | Tribune-Review</em></div>Republican State Senate candidate D. Raja (left) and his wife Neeta (right) vote while his two daughters Isana, 11, and Omisa, 8, observe inside Jefferson Elementary School in Mt. Lebanon on election day Tuesday morning.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review - After voting, Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania's 37th Senatorial District, Matt Smith and wife, Eileen, along with their children, Jameson, 1, Delaney, 5, and Emerson, 3, leave Markham Elementary School in Mt. Lebanon, Tuesday, November 6th, 2012.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review</em></div>After voting, Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania's 37th Senatorial District, Matt Smith and wife, Eileen, along with their children, Jameson, 1, Delaney, 5, and Emerson, 3, leave Markham Elementary School in Mt. Lebanon, Tuesday, November 6th, 2012.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review - After voting, Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania's 37th Senatorial District, Matt Smith, along with children, Jameson, 1, Delaney, 5, and Emerson, 3, leave Markham Elementary School in Mt. Lebanon, Tuesday, November 6th, 2012.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review</em></div>After voting,  Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania's 37th Senatorial District, Matt Smith, along with children, Jameson, 1, Delaney, 5, and Emerson, 3, leave Markham Elementary School in Mt. Lebanon, Tuesday, November 6th, 2012.

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Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
 

Voters chose the experienced politician over a candidate experienced in creating jobs, in a contentious race to fill a vacant state Senate seat, unofficial tallies showed Tuesday.

State Rep. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, beat Republican D. Raja, a Mt. Lebanon businessman, 53 percent 47 percent. The district, vacated by Republican John Pippy, includes suburbs in the South Hills and west of Pittsburgh.

Smith campaign spokesman Jake Pawlak said Raja conceded about 10:30 p.m. in a phone call to Smith.

“We think the voters responded to Matt's vision for building a future here in Western Pennsylvania and his values, priorities and experience,” Pawlak said.

“It was a hard fought race,” Raja said in a statement. “I congratulate Matt Smith and wish him the very best as our state senator.”

Smith, 40, an attorney, became a state representative in 2007 and ran unopposed for re-election in that district. Raja, 46, is co-founder of customer software firm Computer Enterprises Inc. in Scott. He ran unsuccessfully for Allegheny County executive last year.

Incumbent state senators appeared well positioned to win in two other contested races in Western Pennsylvania.

Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, was cruising to a win in her Westmoreland County district, and Sen. Elder Vogel Jr., R-New Sewickley, led Democratic challenger Kimberly Villella, 57 percent to 43 percent, in a heavily Democratic district concentrated in Beaver County.

Raja and Smith said their legislative priorities are creating jobs, increasing education funding and improving crumbling infrastructure. But in the months leading up to the election, policy talk gave way to attack ads. The latest campaign finance reports show donors pumped about $2.2 million into Raja's campaign, including $1 million from Raja himself in the last seven weeks of the campaign, and almost $800,000 into Smith's campaign.

Raja accused Smith of reneging on a promise to forgo state pension benefits and supporting measures that resulted in taxes totaling $1 million for every day he spent in office. Smith said Raja outsourced jobs to India. Both candidates called their opponents' ads misleading.

In Westmoreland County, Ward was trouncing Greensburg dentist Ron Gazze, 62, in her bid for a second term, 87 percent to 13 percent, tallies showed.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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