Whew! That was close!
This may become the tag line for Nov. 8's general election. In a contest with multiple competitive races -- as well as some that weren't supposed to be -- razor-thin margins ruled the day.
Locally, the closest contest of countywide consequence was for district attorney, where Democrat John Bongivengo eked out a win over Republican George Freed. This squeaker, decided by fewer than 100 votes, demonstrates why every ballot is important.
With Democrats outnumbering Republicans in Lawrence County, it wasn't much of a surprise to see Democratic candidates emerge victorious in most major races. The only exception was another close contest -- for judge. And in what may have been the most important race in the county, Republican John Hodge edged out Democrat Matthew Mangino.
This race was easily the most publicized one in the county, with Mangino, the county district attorney, aggressively going after Hodge, the county solicitor, over the Gary Felasco scandal. Mangino sought to portray himself as the candidate willing to pursue Felasco's ouster as county treasurer, while he claimed Hodge was doing nothing.
The tactic may have closed the vote gap that existed between Hodge and Mangino in the May primary, but it didn't completely erase it.
Statewide, the big headlines involved another judicial race and a close result. For the first time in Pennsylvania history, voters rejected the retention of a sitting state Supreme Court justice.
Russell Nigro lost his seat and the reason was simple: The Pennsylvania Legislature's outrageous pay raise for its members, judges and other state officials.
Nigro was targeted because rejecting him was the only outlet state voters had for venting their pay-raise anger. (A second justice up for retention, Sandra Schultz Newman, kept her seat, although her win was narrow.) Plus, pay-raise foes noted the historic failure of the Supreme Court to challenge the Legislature's tendency to play fast and loose with the state constitution.
Thus, Nigro's defeat translates into a powerful message to Harrisburg from the voters: Shape up or we will shape you up.
In Lawrence County, it's difficult to discern such a message, because in the major races, there were no incumbents facing challenges. And in his retention vote, Common Pleas Court President Judge Dominick Motto was easily returned to office. Plus, Nigro won in the county.
Does this mean Lawrence County voters are a relatively happy lot? Or are they waiting until next year to go after incumbents? If nothing else, the election of 2005 raises some intriguing possibilities for 2006.