Neophyte Patrick Stefano ends 67-year drought for Republicans in 32nd District
A Republican will represent Fayette and Somerset counties and parts of Westmoreland County in the state Senate for the first time in 67 years.
Republican Patrick Stefano, 48, a political newcomer from Bullskin, defeated Democratic state Rep. Deberah Kula, 65, of North Union in a stunning, against-the-odds victory for the 32nd District seat left open by the retirement of Democrat Richard Kasunic.
Stefano, a commercial printer, bested Kula, who had represented part of the area in the state House since 2006, 57 percent to 43 percent, according to unofficial results late Tuesday.
“We projected that we were going to pull ahead, but I didn't want to believe any of that until I actually (saw) it,” Stefano said. “We saw the numbers come in, and that's when it became real — we did this. It's so exciting.”
Kula gave up her House seat to run for the Senate in what is a squarely Democratic district by voter registration. Registered Democrats account for 64 percent to Republicans' 27 percent.
“Obviously, the election did not turn out the way we all had anticipated,” Kula said. “We put up a good fight. We're very proud of the campaign that we ran.”
Campaign manager Alissa Rudolph said Kula will “take a breather” and “get some rest” and talk with her family about her next move.
The state parties and their campaign arms devoted record amounts of money to the largely rural district as the race became one of the most hotly contested statewide.
The candidates jointly raised more than $2.8 million since the May primary, with about $713,000 flooding into campaign coffers since Oct. 21, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Department of State.
Kula brought in $63,000 from a variety of sources between Oct. 22 and Oct. 29, bringing the total she raised to more than $931,000, reports showed.
Stefano raked in about $650,000 in the campaign's final days, with about $567,000 coming from the Senate Republican Campaign Committee alone on Oct. 30. His fundraising efforts netted a total of nearly $1.9 million, reports showed.
Campaign officials said aggressive spending and advertising were warranted because of the rarity of the race: an open seat in a district that could flip parties for the first time in more than six decades. Kula and Stefano blanketed the western half of the state with television ads from late August through Election Day.
Despite Democrats' voter registration advantage, Republicans said shifting voter trends in the area made them confident they would secure a GOP victory.
The district includes all of Fayette and Somerset counties and Mt. Pleasant, Scottdale, North Belle Vernon, East Huntingdon, Rostraver and the city of Monessen in Westmoreland County.
Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or email@example.com.