Turnout Light Even Where Primary Field Is Crowded

May 15, 2018

The Allegheny River borough of Millvale is arguably at the epicenter of Tuesday’s primary elections. But as of lunchtime, it was kind of hard to tell.

Millvale is part of two legislative districts being closely watched today: the 21st state House district, where Sara Innamorato is challenging incumbent Democrat Dom Costa, and the 38th state Senate District, where Republican incumbent Randy Vulakovich faces a primary challenge – and where two Democrats are also competing for a spot on the November ballot.

Yet judging from visits to three polling places, by mid-day, the voting was as sluggish as elsewhere in Allegheny County, where officials expected turnout of only 20 percent.

“I was only the 18th voter this morning, so [turnout] seems very, very low,” said Eileen Cinski, a former Democratic Committee member.

“Turnout today – even with the good weather – has been a little on the slow side,” agreed James Machajewski, who chairs the Millvale Democratic committee. “I expect a lot more coming out after dinner.”

It’s not for lack of trying on the part of candidates, he said: “You have several candidates who’ve canvased door to door, and several of them have a lot of local connections.”

Indeed, Innamorato, a native of Ross Township, appeared to be fielding an especially strong ground game, with poll workers at each site outnumbering Costa loyalists by two-to-one. But Cinski said Costa has a strong base of support.

“He’s well known, and he’s done a lot of good things for Millvale and our district," Cinski said.

The state Senate race was also of interest. While there was little visible sign of the battle between Democrats Stephanie Walsh and Lindsey Williams, polling places were sprinkled with signs for Vulakvoich’s challenger, Jeremy Shaffer. That seemed all right with Machajewski, who said that as a Democrat, he would prefer to face Shaffer in November.

"Randy is from Shaler and Shaffer is from Ross, and I think either one will be tough to beat. But Vulakovich has been ingrained in the community for a long time – as a police officer and [an elected official]. He’d be a big opponent in November because of the name recognition and the community involvement,” Machajewski said.

Republican voter Kathleen Bertram, for her part, confessed that she’d almost forgotten it was primary day. But she turned out in part because she wanted to weigh in on the three-way GOP primary for governor. She backed state Senator Scott Wagner, who owns a waste-disposal company in York, because, “He seems like a down-to-earth person. When he says ‘I’m a garbageman,’ to me that’s a middle-class guy working for middle-class people.”

By contrast, she said of health care consultant Paul Mango, Wagner's chief rival, “his ads were very negative.” That has been a concern among party officials, who have criticized Mango ads that have characterized Wagner as a slumlord, among other jibes. 

But Bertram backed another hometown candidate, state Rep. Jim Christiana, in the contest to take on Democrat Bob Casey for the U.S. Senate.

“I just liked what he had to say,” Bertram said of Christiana, and because she doesn't know anything about Lou Barletta, a Hazelton Republican backed by Donald Trump and widely seen as the frontrunner.

“I had never seen him around or heard of him,” Bertram said. “As a matter of fact, I was surprised when I saw him on the ballot."