BEDFORD - Republican Jesse Topper won an overwhelming victory in Tuesday's 78th District state House special election, defeating Democrat Barbara Barron by a 4-1 margin, according to results posted in the district's three counties.
In a race that drew just 15 percent of the district's Bedford County voters - still more than some expected on a frigid day - Topper, 32, a Bedford minister and Republican Party officer, handily won the seat left open by the Sept. 6 death of longtime state Rep. Dick Hess.
With all but one precinct counted, Topper tallied 4,269 votes to Barron's 925. Results are considered unofficial until verified by election officials.
Topper will likely learn of his swearing-in date today, he said from a Tuesday-night celebration at Bedford's Carriage House restaurant.
He attributed his landslide victory to a strong grassroots campaign in the conservative district.
"You're never expecting numbers, obviously, like this," he said. "I'm just extremely humbled by all the support I've received throughout this process."
Topper managed to pack mass mailings, phone calls and print and radio advertisements into a short campaign season, activating the well-prepared election machinery he'd cited during the Republican Party's selection process.
Now he'll have to move quickly into Harrisburg offices, officially take up his seat and prepare for a primary and general election later this year.
"It's going to be a whirlwind for the next couple days," he said.
Barron, Topper's Democratic opponent and an Everett educator, said she hasn't yet decided whether she'll run again for the 78th District seat. Speaking from her home shortly after the Bedford County results were posted, she wished Topper good luck for the coming year.
"I just want to thank everybody that supported me and everybody that voted for me. And Jesse, for running what I consider a very strong, clean campaign," she said.
In the days before the election, both candidates said they weren't expecting high turnout. With below-zero temperatures, a wind chill advisory and many schools and senior centers closed, there was little to entice voters to polling places.
Despite efforts to explain the nature of the race, some voters didn't fully understand the off-season election.
"Where do I vote in Hyndman?" one prospective voter asked at noon on Topper's campaign Facebook page. Hyndman, represented by state Rep. Carl Metzgar, R-Berlin, was not included in the special election.
Nevertheless, more than 15 percent of registered Bedford County voters turned out, according to official tallies. Topper said the goal for a special election is often no higher than 10 percent.
As Topper moves into new offices and prepares for life in the General Assembly, he also must prepare for shifting district boundaries. The 78th District is set to lose its Huntingdon County portion and part its of Bedford County area in exchange for part of Franklin County by the November election.
Those new boundaries could be tested as soon as the May primary, when Topper could face some of the same opponents he first overcame during the Republican Party selection process.
"We're going to work diligently," he said.
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.