The mood was cheerful this morning as Senate Democrats gathered at the Harrisburg Hilton to welcome three new members elected last week.
As Sen. Daylin Leach put it, even supporters had harbored serious doubts about the caucus's campaign abilities before the Senate Democrats held their own in the 2010 cycle.
"Frankly, there was a lot of skepticism," Leach said. "The Senate Demorats for decades had been saying they're going to pick up seats, they're going to do this, and we never did. And people were frankly tired of investing and didn't have a lot of confidence in what we were able to do."
This time around, the Democrats are welcoming former Rep. Matt Smith of Mt. Lebanon, who claimed the seat held by Republican former Sen. John Pippy; Rob Teplitz, who will represent the Harrisburg seat held by retiring Republican Sen. Jeffrey Piccola; and Sean Wiley, whose Erie district has been represented by retiring Republican Sen. Jane Earll.
Smith won the seat by beating out Republican D. Raja, a fellow Mt. Lebanon resident. (They live close enough that Smith's running route takes him by his opponent's home.) But another Democrat, Greg Parks, had initially landed a spot on the ballot after a write-in campaign, and it was only after he withdrew that Smith was nominated to run for Senate.
Before his Senate bid came about, Smith told the breakfast crowd, his wife and kids had been thrilled that his dual Republican-Democratic nominations for his House seat meant a pre-eleciton summer without much fundraising or door-knocking.
When it became apparent that Parks would drop out, Smith said he told his wife about the news, along with a little background about the string of Republicans that had held the seat, including U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy and federal Judge Mike Fisher.
"She said, well that's great, what idiot are they going to get to run?" he said. "I said, well, I said, funny you ask that. There's a little bit of a change in plan potentially for our summer"
The crowd liked it. And of course, Smith said, his family got behind the Senate bid.