Are voters so focused on next year’s presidential election that they skip over Tuesday’s county, municipal, and judicial elections? Or will the national political fervor spur them to the polls? In the Pennsylvania counties surrounding Philadelphia, as in regions statewide, party leaders see this election as a test of how well they can turn out their voters.
Joe Foster, chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Party, is anxious to know if the party’s momentum from statewide and congressional elections since 2016 will trickle down to the local races.
“The question is, Will the pattern that was established in ‘17 and ‘18 continue in ‘19?" he said, referring to an energized electorate that boosted Democrats’ power. "We believe it will, but we have to see.”
Here’s a recap of the races worth watching:
Delaware County: A battle for council control
County Council: In the 2017 municipal election, Democrats pulled off a historic win, getting their candidates — Brian Zidek and Kevin Madden — onto the five-member council, which had never included a Democrat. This year, they’re looking to make history again. For the first time, Democrats have a chance to gain the majority.
Democratic candidate Elaine Schaefer said voters have been receptive to her and fellow Democrats Monica Taylor and Christine Reuther during door-to-door campaigning.
“The voters are ready for change," Schaefer said. "They’re pretty desperate for change.”
The Democrats are up against Republicans Mike Morgan, Kelly Colvin, and James Raith.
Tom McGarrigle, the county GOP chair, said avoiding tax increases is the No. 1 concern he’s heard from residents. He says his candidates are more equipped to hold the line on taxes. “This race is still winnable for us,” he said. "We just need to get all our Republican voters out.”
District Attorney: Liberal New York billionaire George Soros has helped spice up the race between Democrat Jack Stollsteimer and incumbent Katayoun Copeland, a Republican. Soros, who helped Larry Krasner become Philadelphia’s district attorney, is spending $100,000 to support Stollsteimer.
The news is fodder for conservatives. Even before the announcement, the national conservative Citizens Who Have Had Enough PAC mailed fliers to voters comparing Stollsteimer to Krasner and decrying liberal policies. Stollsteimer, a former federal prosecutor, is running on a platform to de-privatize the county prison, reform the cash bail system, lower the charges for minor marijuana possession, target communities for gun-violence reduction programs, and add an Environmental Crimes Unit to the office.
Copeland is a career county and federal prosecutor who took over from Jack Whelan in 2017. Copeland says she wants to continue prosecuting child predators, make schools safer, promote gun safety, protect seniors and the environment from abuse, keep nonviolent drug offenders out of jail in favor of treatment, and prosecute drug dealers. Her campaign manager called the money from Soros “disturbing,” while Stollsteimer’s manager highlighted super PAC spending against his candidate.
Montgomery County: A twist in the commissioners’ race
Commissioners: Incumbents Valerie Arkoosh and Kenneth Lawrence Jr. are all but certain to retain their seats, and the Democratic majority on the three-member board of commissioners. Foster, the county party leader, predicted they also will help the other Democratic candidates for countywide offices. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 73,000 in Montgomery County.
But the race is on for the third seat reserved for a member of the minority party.
Joe Gale, the incumbent Republican on the board, is accusing the county Republican committee of trying to sabotage his reelection. “It’s because I’m uncontrollable,” said Gale, who calls himself “an independent conservative” and who won without his party’s support in 2015. “The Democratic and Republican establishment would rather a puppet that they can control.”
The more moderate Republican candidate, Fred Conner, said that all the candidates are “good people,” but that as chair of Whitpain Township’s Board of Supervisors, he would bring local experience and perspective to the board. He also is running to mitigate traffic and urban sprawl and make county services more efficient.
Elizabeth Preate Havey, chair of the Republican committee, has said her group is supporting both Gale and Conner.
Chester County: Picking a new sheriff and district attorney
The county remains the only one in the Philadelphia region where registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats. But the margin has been narrowing, dropping from about 22,000 in spring 2015 to about 10,300 this past May.
"We believe we already have an advantage and that advantage is continuing to increase as we increase our voter registration,” said Dick Bingham, chair of the Chester County Democratic Committee, adding that independents in the county tend to lean Democratic.
Rick Loughery, chair of the county’s Republican Committee, is counting on voters choosing to stick with the status quo.
“The voters understand Republicans have run this county very well since the Civil War," he said. "They don’t want to change a good thing.”
Commissioners: County Commissioners Terence Farrell and Michelle Kichline, both Republicans, are running for another term on the three-member board. Democratic Commissioner Kathi Cozzone lost her primary to Downingtown Mayor Josh Maxwell and Marian Moskowitz, a businesswoman.
Sheriff: The first woman elected sheriff in Chester County, Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, announced last year she wouldn’t run again after two decades in office. Welsh, a Republican, was an early supporter of Donald Trump during the 2016 election.
In the race to replace her, the Democratic candidate, lawyer and former Pennsylvania State Trooper Fredda Maddox, would be the first black woman elected as sheriff. Her opponent, Jim Fitzgerald, is a retired FBI agent and Marine Corps veteran. Both say their backgrounds make them most qualified for the job.
District Attorney: Tom Hogan, the county’s district attorney for eight years, announced in July he was not seeking reelection after running unopposed in the May Republican primary. Hogan’s No. 2, First Assistant District Attorney Michael Noone, is running in his place to continue their work in the office, while Deb Ryan, a former prosecutor in Hogan’s office and the Democratic challenger, argues the office needs to head in a different direction.
Bucks County: Could decades of GOP control come to an end?
Commissioners: For the first time in more than three decades, Democrats think they can win control of the three-person board.
“We have a real and excellent opportunity,” said John Cordisco, chair of the Bucks County Democratic Committee, who said this election cycle has been unrivaled in the amount of resources and activity for a commissioners race.
In 2015, Republican Robert Loughery and Democrat Diane Ellis-Marseglia were the top vote-getters, receiving about 54,000 and 52,000 votes, respectively. Republicans retained the majority by just 728 votes with a win by Charles Martin; he’s not running this time.
On Tuesday, Ellis-Marseglia and fellow Democrat Robert Harvie are up against Loughery and Republican State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo.
The county had about 11,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans as of June. Both sides say their candidates appeal to Democrats, Republicans, and independents.
“We don’t win on the party [size], because they have more people than us,” said Pat Poprik, chair of the Bucks County Republican Committee. “I really believe our candidates will win, because I really believe the people in this county, regardless of party, look at the quality of life. … People love what’s going on in the county and we have to remind them the Republicans have been the stewards."
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly described Gene DiGirolamo as a former state representative.