Democrats contend for control of Montgomery County

Posted by admin on Saturday, October 29, 2011 | No Comments

Dave Davies of WHYY writes:

While political trends in much of the country are tilting toward Republican candidates, Democrats in suburban Montgomery County are poised for what they hope is a historic victory on Nov. 8—control of the three-member commission which manages county government.

Montgomery County is the third most populous in Pennsylvania; for decades, it’s been a rich source of Republican votes and fundraising.

“It would be a big win for Democrats if they could capture the commission.” said Republican strategist Jeff Jubelirer.

Montgomery County isn’t the Republican bastion it used to be. Many liberals and moderates have moved in, and Democratic registration now exceeds Republican by 36,000 votes.

While Democrats are running a rising star of the party, state Rep. Josh Shapiro, Republicans have struggled to overcome internal divisions.“There’s been a split for support in the Republicans, and they are not united,” Jubelirer said.

The leading Republican candidate, former district attorney and current county Commissioner Bruce Castor is a strong personality who’s clashed with some party stalwarts, most notably former county chairman and blue-chip fundraiser Bob Asher.

Asher, who declined comment, is sitting the race out. So far, the Democrats have a far better-funded campaign.

Democrats take up GOP theme

Shapiro and his running mate, Whitemarsh Township Supervisor Leslie Richards, have adopted a typically Republican theme in attacking Castor and his running mate, Jenny Brown.

“Leslie Richards and I have been clear from the get-go. We’re not going to raise taxes,” Shapiro said in a recent debate at Lansdale radio station WNPV. “Bruce and Jenny, in their own words, have left the door open to that.”

The county is in a deep budget hole, and Shapiro was asked to explain how he could be so sure he could fill it without raising taxes.

“We need to start fresh. Zero-based budgeting allows us to do that,” Shapiro said. “What it does is it says to every expenditure, every program, let’s begin at zero. Let’s ask the tough questions that need to be asked about whether or not a program works, and whether it ought to be funded.”

Castor smiled at that explanation, and then responded.

“I absolutely love the term zero-based budgeting. I love it,” Castor said. “I looked it up when Josh first said it, and I found out that zero-based budgeting is the major mechanism of the tea party and how it is they say they’re going to keep from raising taxes.”

Castor brought up the tea party in defense of his running mate Brown, whom the Democrats have attacked with a hard-hitting TV ad.

“And tea party Jenny?” an announcer intones in the commercial. “She’s the only candidate to meet with the tea party, and she told them she shared their values.”

That charge is based on a radio interview Brown gave to a group called the Kitchen Table Patriots, in which she affirmed Republican values of fiscal restraint, not affinity with the tea party.

The top three vote-getters among the four candidates will be elected.

Third seat’s the charm

It’s widely expected that Castor and Shapiro will win, and control of the county will be determined by the battle between Brown and Richards.

Both are accomplished, well-spoken professional women with experience in local government. And they’ve joined the battle with gusto.

In the radio debate Brown engaged Richards, who’s proud of not raising property taxes in Whitemarsh.

“I agree that you didn’t increase property taxes,” Brown said. “But you did increase other taxes which has had a significant effect on people who work in Whitemarsh.”

“There was a borrowing to preserve open space, and it was supported in a bipartisan, 5-0 vote because Democrats and Republicans value open space in Whitemarsh Township,” Richards responded. “And a local services tax? Yes, bipartisan support, 5-0 vote, to make sure our emergency services, our police, our fire, our ambulance can do the job that they need to do.”

It’s not a race in which Republicans are trying to tie the Democrats with President Barack Obama. The politics here are local. Both sides hope to turn out supporters and woo independents.

If Democrats prevail, it will be a historic win that gives them control of one of the richest counties in the country.

Read the full story here.

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