After primary, fighting will intensify

No seats were contested in the primary. But with 3 seats open in November, expect things to get nasty.

Posted: May 16, 2007

By the way Democrats and Republicans had been going at each other in the race to control Montgomery County government, you wouldn't know that nothing was riding on yesterday's primary.

That's because everything is at stake in the November election as Democrats seek control of the Board of Commissioners in the state's largest GOP-dominated county, part of a suburban area casting critical swing votes in state and national elections.

Two candidates are running in each party; none faced opposition on yesterday's ballot.

The vote did make the November ballot official: incumbent Republican Commissioner Jim Matthews, joined by political heavyweight Bruce Castor, the district attorney, will face incumbent Democrat Ruth Damsker, who brings her own muscle in former U.S. Rep. Joseph Hoeffel. Three of the four candidates will be elected in November.

As Pennsylvania is also one of the swing states for national elections, November's outcome in Montgomery County could realign state and national politics "in profound ways," said Michael Young, who runs a polling and public policy consulting firm in Harrisburg.

"If the suburbs turn away from the Republican Party, the Republicans will have difficulty winning state elections," Young said.

That's what prompted Castor, arguably the suburbs' most familiar political figure, to seek a lower-profile political position, with a running mate he has feuded with recently.

Matthews, who ran for lieutenant governor last fall as Lynn Swann's running mate, agreed to a truce with Castor.

Republicans still hold a registration advantage, with 46 percent compared with the Democrats' 39 percent. But until 2003, the GOP had always made up more than half of the registered voters. The remaining 15 percent are independents or registered with third parties.

The county has been in strong financial shape and even lowered taxes this year.

But Democrats hope to catch reformist sentiment after scandals in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, accusing both Matthews and Castor of pay-to-play in awarding no-bid contracts.

Last week, Castor threatened to sue Damsker for such accusations made in connection with Castor's use of a medical testing laboratory that is also a heavy contributor to his campaigns.


Contact staff writer Jeff Shields

at 610-313-8173 or jshields@phillynews.com.

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