As a newcomer to the election night process, the apparent outcome of the race for the 62nd District seat in the state House of Representatives didn’t become clear to Jim Struzzi until someone with some more experience read the tea leaves.
Rep. Dave Reed, a poll-watcher for the ninth straight time and having rung up his own winning numbers the last eight times, told Struzzi and his campaign team gathered Tuesday at Benjamin’s Restaurant in Indiana when victory over challenger Logan Dellafiora was assured.
That wasn’t long after 10 p.m., when the Indiana County election bureau reported Struzzi with more than 57 percent of the votes with 45 of 69 precincts counted.
Reed was right. The numbers didn’t change much before the county posted the final count at 10:20 p.m.
Struzzi, the Republican, prevailed with 12,312 votes (57.5 percent) to 8,851 (41.3 percent) for the Democrat, Dellafiora.
“Dave said, ‘can I have the honor of introducing you?’ which was pretty cool. And again, it’s humbling,” Struzzi said. “So he quieted the room down and Dave said, ‘I want to introduce the next state representative.’ It was amazing.”
Dellafiora, on the other hand, was disappointed.
“You put eight, nine, 10 months of work into it … and when you set out you have a 50-50 chance of winning,” Dellafiora said. “The voter turnout numbers came in higher and higher, and we thought that played into our favor, but ultimately it wasn’t enough. It’s disappointing but it’s not the end of the world.
Struzzi’s two-year term in the House officially begins in 24 days, on Dec. 1.
He talked about the campaign as he stepped from the restaurant’s crowded dining room to the patio area to check texts and voicemails.
“I am just thrilled and excited, and ready to get to work,” Struzzi said. He said his priority list remains what he told the voters during the campaign, beginning with No. 1: “We have a lot of people in support of eliminating property taxes in Harrisburg, and I am going to work hard to make that happen. I really think that’s a game-changer for Indiana County and Pennsylvania.
“I think continuation of job creation through better tax structures for businesses and the reduction of overregulation is No. 2. And I have a personal commitment to my deceased brother to address the opioid crisis.”
Struzzi, the president of the Indiana County Chamber of Commerce since 2013 and a former press spokesman for Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for more than a decade, thought his record of experience in the public eye captured the voters.
“They know my character, they know my integrity, they know my reputation,” he said. “I believe that people believe in me and I’m ready to work hard to make them all proud of their support.”
Dellafiora, a 2015 graduate of Homer-Center High School and a 2018 graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, said he hoped for voters to respond to his campaign pledge to serve district residents’ needs first without regard for political party.
“I’d like to see what the turnout was by party affiliation, and the numbers who voted straight ticket,” Dellafiora said in a phone interview after the final votes were counted. “I don’t really know what the message is. The party turnout, by Republicans and Democrats, that may have something to do with it. I don’t know.
“My message the whole time was about working across party lines and trying to do the best for the community, rather than parties. So I’ll be interested in looking at that tomorrow to see if that message did resonate or maybe it didn’t. Ultimately, the voters went in the other direction and, like I said, I have nothing but respect for Jim and I think he’ll do good for the district.”
Both candidates found common ground at the end of the race: respect for each other and confidence that they hadn’t disenfranchised voters with negative campaigning.
“I want to make sure that we congratulate Logan on a good, clean campaign,” Struzzi said. “He’s a great young man; he’s going to do well in life, and I respect him.”
“I told Jim on the phone, the 62nd District, either way it went, the people would have been in good hands,” Dellafiora said. “I have full faith in Jim and I believe Jim had full faith in me. The voters went a different way than I would have liked, but it’s not the end of the world for those that voted for me or the district as a whole.
“We were both on the same page, we ran clean races on both ends. I remember standing here on May 15 when I won the primary and said I looked forward to running a clean election,” Dellafiora said. “In today’s political spectrum, that’s about all you can ask for. Both of us said that on May 15, and standing here on Nov. 6, we both have fulfilled that promise so I’m happy about that.”
Voter turnout spiked in the 62nd District as it did across the nation. Four years ago, Reed and his Democratic challenger, Kevin Freeberg, amassed 16,425 votes. On Tuesday, 21,163 votes (almost 29 percent more) went to Struzzi and Dellafiora.
Next up for the candidates: Struzzi said he’s planning to provide the smoothest possible transition to the next person that the chamber of commerce board of directors chooses for leadership, and Dellafiora, whose term on the Homer-Center school board comes up for re-election in 2019, said his options are wide open.
“I think the chamber is going to be in good hands; I’m going to make sure that we transition well to the next president,” Struzzi said. “That’s how I operate.
“We have a good board. That’s what the chamber is all about, the board of directors. When you have the highest echelon of community leaders on the chamber board, it’s going to work out.”
“For the past 10 months I haven’t thought about the future past Nov. 6 at 8 p.m.,” Dellafiora said. “Even tonight I don’t know what my plans are, where I’m going or what I’m doing. I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t looked past today. So it’s going to take some time to get back into a normal life, not in terms of an election cycle, but life in terms of life.”
He said he owes thanks to “too many volunteers to count … I bet we had 500 to 600 people” supporting the campaign.
“It would have been pretty easy to write me off as a typical 21-year-old, but it was somewhere around 8,500 people who saw enough in me and voted for me; 600 people saw enough in me to support me financially or in volunteer hours,” Dellafiora said. “They believed in what we were doing, and I can’t say thank you enough for that.”