Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce L. Castor Jr. has a brash prediction about his reelection campaign.

Come fall - in contrast to Tuesday's all-but-ignored suburban primary - Castor says all eyes will be on the showdown for control of Montgomery County government.

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

Castor made the remarks late Tuesday, after a rain-sodden, largely perfunctory primary. But now that the political slate for November is set, contentious county races loom in the area.

In one of the few primary matchups, Bucks County's incumbent Republican commissioners beat two challengers.

Four-term veteran Charles Martin and newly appointed Robert Loughery won by more than 2-1 over their closest competitor, former Commissioner Andrew Warren. Self-styled tea-party Republican Jay Russell finished well behind Warren.

"I'm very pleased and humbled. . . . 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.

The only other nonjudicial county race was in Montgomery County, where former Whitemarsh Police Chief Eileen Whalon Behr breezed past Robert J. Durante in the Republican sheriff's primary.

Behr will face Democrat William A. Holt Jr. in the fall.

Tuesday's turnout was in the minuscule range, and primary day 2011 was particularly short on passion. That should change soon.

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

Adding fuel to that race is the recent arrest of Republican Register of Wills Barbara Reilly on political-corruption charges, as well as an investigation into the Sheriff's Office. But despite a voter registration shift in recent years to a Democratic edge, Democrats have yet to capitalize by winning a countywide race.

In Montgomery County, Democrats likewise see opportunity ahead. Led by State Rep. Josh Shapiro and Whitemarsh Commissioner Leslie Richards, Democrats see this year as their best chance to wrest control of the county from the GOP. Standing in their way are Castor, who seeks a second term, and his running mate, Lower Merion Commissioner Jenny Brown.

Like Castor, Shapiro used Tuesday to jump-start what is expected to be one of the tightest and most costly campaigns in the county's history.

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

Contact staff writer Larry King

at 215-345-0446 or lking@phillynews.com.

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