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Bucks, Montco races attract modest attention

Let the main event begin.

Let the main event begin.

A rain-sodden, largely perfunctory suburban primary is over, its voting participants as scarce as C-SPAN viewers at prime time.

But the political slate for November is set, with contentious county races looming across the area.

In one of the few matchups that drew even modest attention, Bucks County's incumbent Republican commissioners won handily over two challengers. With 96 percent of the vote in, Charles Martin and Robert Loughery held more than a 2-1 margin over former commissioner Andrew Warren and self-styled tea party Republican Jay Russell for the GOP's two fall ballot spots.

"I'm very pleased and humbled tonight; it's my first time to be elected," said Loughery, who was appointed to fill the vacancy created when former commissioner Jim Cawley became lieutenant governor. "I think voters are pleased with this county government and the way it is being run."

The only other nonjudicial county race was in Montgomery County, where former Whitemarsh police chief Ellen Whalon Behr breezed past Robert J. Durante in the Republican sheriff's primary. Behr held a 2-1 margin with about two-thirds of the vote in.

Behr, appointed last month to serve out the term of the late Sheriff John P. Durante, will face Democrat William A. Holt Jr. in the fall. The outcome will be historic: Behr would be the first woman elected sheriff in the county, while Holt, a former Abington detective, would be the first black person to fill the post.

Judgeships were also on the ballot in all four counties, as were many municipal government and school-board seats.

Tuesday's turnout appeared mired in the minuscule range, with some districts not hitting 10 percent until 6 p.m. or later.

"There's the weather, but also the races - there's no pressing thing to bring (voters) out," said Joan Doyle, a Doylestown Borough councilwoman running unopposed in the Democratic primary. She sat outside a firehouse where only 105 of about 1,000 eligible voters had appeared by 5 p.m.

In Delaware County, a sign flap flared up in the contentious race for Newtown Township supervisor, but it was so quiet at the Radnor Township Library polling place at mid-morning that poll workers were playing the video game Angry Birds on an iPad.

"It's very, very slow," said Patty Ann Daley-Klein, an election judge in Bensalem Township, Bucks County. In a precinct with 1,900 voters, only 28 had shown up by mid-morning.

Off-year elections traditionally have low turnouts, and primary day 2011 was particularly short on passion. That should change very soon.

In Bucks County, Democratic Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia and running mate Det Ansinn are hoping to end 24 years of Republican county government control.

Adding fuel to that race is the recent indictment of Republican Register of Wills Barbara Reilly and three top deputies on corruption charges, as well as an ongoinginvestigation into the sheriff's office. But despite a voter registration shift in recent years, from a Republican majority to a Democratic edge, BucksDemocrats have yet to capitalize by winning a countywide race.

In Montgomery County, Democrats likewise see opportunity ahead.

Commissioner candidates from both parties used Tuesday to jump-start what is expected to be one of the tightest and most costly campaigns in the county's history. The Democrats - led by state Rep. Josh Shapiro and Whitemarsh Commissioner Leslie Richards - see this year as their best chance to wrest control from the GOP for the first time in county government history. Both were unopposed in the primary.

"We've been focused on November for several weeks now," said Shapiro, who was visiting polling sites. "I think it's going to be a critical race for Pennsylvania."

Republican Commissioner Bruce L. Castor Jr., seeking a second term, is running with Jenny Brown, a Lower Merion commissioner. He took the rhetoric even further.

"This will be the most important election in Pennsylvania this year," he said. "How the county goes will indicate very strongly to national politicions how the state will go in the next presidential election."

In Newtown Township, a brief ruckus broke out at one polling place when plainclothes deputies demanded the removal of signs supporting a Republican candidate - but not those of his party-endorsed opponent. It ended with all signs inside the firehouse being taken out into the rain.

While most of the offices up for grabs may lack glamour, William Montgomery of Bensalem, a retired steamfitter, says that's beside the point. "I exercise my right. I vote in every election, rain or not," said Montgomery, a Democrat and military veteran.

As for the rain, its effect on turnout is questionable. An Inquirer study of 30 elections in Philadelphia failed to show any relationship between weather and turnout.

For people such as Dale Longmaid, 70, of West Bradford Township, rain is irrelevant. "Voting is important; we grew up with it being important," she said. "People in my family have died to protect that right."