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Special election date draws ire from Democratic camp

| Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Democrats and Republicans differ over why the special election in the 40th Senatorial District was scheduled for today rather than the May 15 primary election.

Voters in parts of Allegheny, Butler and Westmoreland counties go to the polls today to likely determine whether Democrat Jim Rooney of Seven Fields or state Rep. Jane Clare Orie, a McCandless Republican, will represent them in the Senate.

In the 40th Senatorial District, the winner will take over the seat that has been vacant since Melissa Hart resigned in January to join the U.S. House of Representatives.

State Sen. Leonard Bodack of Lawrenceville, chairman of the Allegheny County Democratic party, called the March 20 election 'a deliberate attempt to thwart Democratic voter participation.'

To get results

  • Allegheny County: www.county.allegheny.pa.us/elect/results.asp
  • Butler County: http://www.co.butler.pa.us/Election/Current/Home.htm
  • Westmoreland County is not posting results online.
  • David Hixson, a spokesman for Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker, who set the special election date, said March 20 was chosen in the best interests of the citizens.

    'We chose March 20 to ensure that representation could be restored as soon as possible,' Hixson said.

    Another special election is scheduled today in the 26th Senatorial District in Delaware County to chose a replacement for Republican Sen. Joseph Loeper, who pleaded guilty in November to obstructing a federal tax investigation.

    Jasmine Bucher, a spokeswoman with the Pennsylvania Department of State, said Monday that the cost of the two special elections will total between $300,000 and $400,000.

    Rooney and Orie threw together high-profile campaigns since receiving their parties' nominations in January. Independent Jim Stefanick of Ross entered the race three weeks ago and has kept a low profile.

    Stefanick did not return calls seeking comment.

    Rooney spokesman Bob Billstone said the Rooney campaign has had to wage an uphill battle and 'spend a lot of time and effort' because the campaign had only two months to prepare.

    'That's the hand we've been dealt,' Billstone said.

    Analysts predicted in January that turnout would be less than 20 percent. That was before a barrage of television commercials and glossy fliers increased voter awareness.

    Political analyst Jon Delano predicted turnout could be as high as 30 percent because of the media blitz.

    'This has been an unusually high-profile special election because of great media coverage, both on television and in print.' Delano said. 'You can't turn on a television without being assaulted.'

    Billstone agreed the election has become high-profile in a short time.

    Orie spent Monday at her campaign headquarters making telephone calls to voters who have a strong history of going to the polls. She also predicted the warm weather would contribute to higher turnout.

    Both major-party candidates will await election returns in Ross Township along with their supporters starting at about 8:30 p.m.

    Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The winner will be sworn in April 23.

    David Faulk can be reached at dfaulk@tribweb.com or (724) 779-7159.

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