Faced with a strong primary challenge from a grassroots opponent, longtime Democratic State Rep. Dom Costa turned to Republican voters six days before primary election day, looking to scrounge up enough write-in votes to still appear on the general election ballot in the event of a primary loss.
But not only did Democrats pick challenger Sara Innamorato over Costa by a 30 percent margin in the May 15 primary, Costa also fell way short of his goal of 300 Republican write ins, according to data from county elections compiled this week for The Incline.
There were 280 total Republican write-in votes cast in the 21th State House primary race between Costa and Innamorato, according to Allegheny County. (No Republicans ran for the seat. The 21st comprises the City of Pittsburgh and a handful of surrounding townships and boroughs.)
Republican write-ins included 135 containing variations or misspellings of Costa’s name — e.g. “Costa,” “Dom Costa,” “D0m Costa,” “Don Costa,” “Dominic Costa.” There were 12 write-in votes with variations or misspellings of Innamorato’s name, including “Sarah Innamorato,” “Sara Immorito,” “Sara Innamorata.”
The other 133 voters cast their ballots for the usual suspects — Phil Kessel, Mickey Mouse, Daffy Duck, Santa, Don Trump and Cartman.
An additional 11 absentee/provisional ballots were also cast in the race, county spokesperson Amie Downs said, but won’t be counted because even if all were credited to a single candidate, it still wouldn’t raise them to the 300-vote threshold needed to qualify for the general election ballot. That 300-vote threshold is based on the minimum number of signatures required for nominating petitions for state House seats in Pennsylvania.
Democratic candidates seeking Republican write-ins as a failsafe in similarly contested primaries is not unheard of, as The Incline reported last month. It does occasionally work.
But these results confirm Costa’s plea to Republican voters failed.
The 21st is home to 27,981 registered Democrats, 11,393 Republicans and 6,862 others, according to state data. Republican turnout at the polls was a paltry 5.84 percent, according to county elections, while 13.25 percent of registered Democrats voted.
Costa’s Harrisburg office referred a request for comment to his campaign, which did not return messages seeking comment.
Dom Costa’s write-in campaign was criticized by Innamorato, who told the Post-Gazette, “On one hand, it is deeply troubling for a 10-year Democratic incumbent to court Republicans in a last ditch effort to hold onto power.” Costa’s campaign told the paper that he was a proud Democrat looking to win both the Democratic and Republican nominations in an attempt to “unite the 21st District.”
Both Dom Costa and his distant cousin Paul Costa, representative for the 34th State Legislative District in the Mon Valley, had gone unchallenged in their bids to retain the seats for almost a decade. That was until this year, when two candidates backed by the Democratic Socialists of America in Pittsburgh, Innamorato in the 21st and Summer Lee in the 34th, launched aggressive grassroots campaigns aimed at unseating the incumbents and steering the Democratic Party through its lingering identity crisis and further to the left. Both women won by a landslide.
Revised results in both the 34th and 21st District are slated to be certified on Monday, Downs explained.
And while Paul Costa didn’t pursue a similar Republican write-in bid, saying he wanted to focus on Democratic voters, he told the PG, “if Republican voters want to write me in, God bless them.”
A similar look at the 120 Republican write-in votes cast in the 34th District race between Paul Costa and Summer Lee found 32 for Costa — not included in that total are write-in votes for “Dom Costa,” “Jay Costa” or just “Costa” — and 18 cast for Summer Lee, including one for “Summer Lea.” There were 3 absentee or provisional ballots cast in the 34th.
So what does this mean?
It means the Nov. 6 ballot is sealed. It means the Costas won’t be on it for the first time in a long time. It means the Democratic Party in Pittsburgh — and more broadly — is changing.