Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Do endorsements matter?

I have a pretty good track record of predicting winners in Berks County, but I have no idea how today's voting will go for the hotly-contested county commissioners races.

Six Republicans and four Democrats are seeking their respective party's nominations. The top two vote-getters from each party will face off in the November General Election.

Incumbents usually have the advantage, but it may not be the case this year in Berks. If the endorsements by the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce are any indication, we may have some new faces running the county next year.

The Chamber endorsed incumbent Democrat Judy Schwank for re-election, but not the other incumbent Democratic commissioner, Tom Gajewski. Instead, the chamber threw its support behind Kevin Barnhardt, the mayor of West Reading.

Gajewski, a longtime political operative completing his first four-year term as commissioner, doesn't get along with Schwank or Republican Commissioner Mark Scott.

The Chamber's endorsement and Schwank's unwillingness to campaign with Gajewski, may be a signal that the Democratic Party wants to unload Gajewski in favor of a more personable candidate.

On the Republican side, the Chamber endorsed Scott and Christian Leinbach. There's no surprise in the Scott endorsement, but the support for Leinbach over Nelson Long, the current country treasurer and a proven vote-getter, is a surprise.

Long has an established relationship with the business community in Berks County but failed to gain the Chamber's endorsement.

Leinbach, who has never held public office, is popular with conservatives. Leinbach is endorsed by Pat Toomey, the president of the Club for Growth and darling of the conservative set. Toomey also contributed $500 to Leinbach's campaign.

Also supporting Leinbach is Montgomery County GOP activist Bob Guzzardi, who kicked in $2,500 to the Leinbach campaign.

Leinbach raised the most money of the six Republican candidates, according to campaign finance reports. Most of Leinbach's $44,000 received from January to April came from the construction and building industry.

Schwank and Scott are favored to win their party nominations. If Barnhardt and Leinbach win over established candidates Gajewski and Long, it would signal a changing of the guard in Berks County politics.

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