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After 100-plus years, Dems catch GOP in Delco

After more than a century of Republican rule, the Democrats in Delaware County have closed the gap and are poised to become the party with the largest number of registered voters.

After more than a century of Republican rule, the Democrats in Delaware County have closed the gap and are poised to become the party with the largest number of registered voters.

As of Thursday, a difference of a mere 19 registered voters separated the two major parties - with 169,719 Republicans and 169,700 Democrats. The numbers reprsent a statistical dead heat, with each having 44 percent of the total number of registered voters.

The transition shouldn't be a shock, said G. Terry Madonna director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College.

"The change has been more than a decade in the making," Madonna said . "The suburbs have become increasingly competitive."

In Bucks County, the Democrats hold roughly a 3 percent lead over the GOP, with 43 percent of the total voters. In Montgomery County, Democrats account for 46 percent of the voters, compared to 38.5 percent of registered Republicans. Only Chester County remains controlled by Republicans, with an almost 7 point margin.

Delaware County Democratic Party Chairman David Landau said that while the trend is "all good," it means only that the party has a larger pool of registrants. The numbers don't guarantee election wins; the real work comes in getting the voters to the polls, he said.

"We have our work cut out for us," Landau said. Party members are out knocking on doors in preparation for the upcoming election, with seven county seats up for grabs. "We feel the voters in the county are ready for a change," he said.

Landau said that if the party took control of the county, the transition would be a smooth one. For a precedent, party leaders can look to Montgomery County, where the Democrats took the lead five years ago.

Not so fast, said Andrew Reilly, chairman of the Republican Party in Delaware County. The figures don't take into account inactive voters, those who have died, or moved away. Factor in those numbers, and the Republicans still hold about a 2,500-voter advantage, he said.

"We have always run community-minded, common-sense candidates who appeal to registered Independent and even Democratic voters," Reilly said.

The Republican Party has dominated Delaware County politics since the late 19th century. No Democrat has ever been elected as a county judge.

The "War Board" - a 15-member entity that ruled county politics with an iron fist from 1920 until 1975, when it was eliminated - was run by John J. McClure, the undisputed party boss who controlled all the county and municipal jobs.

McClure, a state senator form 1928 to 1936, received a 18-month jail sentence for bootlegging during Prohibition, but his conviction was set aside.

The scandal cost McClure reelection, but not his position of power. During the 1960 presidential campaign, Vice President Richard Nixon's motorcade made a detour to pass by McClure's Chester home so that the GOP nominee could wave to the frail party boss.

Republicans have held every seat on the five-member county council since 1980, when a home-rule charter eliminated guaranteed minority-party representation. Recently, Democrats have begun to make inroads into municipal elections. In 2011 they captured control of Chester, with wins in the mayoral, councilmanic, and school board elections. In 2009, Democrats gained control of the board of commissioiners in Radnor Township.

While the GOP may have had a lock on most local seats, the county has voted Democratic in the last four presidential elections.

In all, 71 political parties are represented in Delaware County.

Independents, non-partisans, and those with no affiliation make up the next largest group with a combined total of 40,143 voters or about 10 percent.

The remaining voters are registered with other parties, including the Birthday Party, the Jedi Party, the Pirate Party of the United States, and the Wild Party. Only four voters registered as members of the Tea Party.