Thursday, May 10, 2007

GOP in a slump in Berks, Bucks, Chester counties

It's not just in Montgomery County where Republicans are demoralized these day. (See my May 7 post). The GOP in neighboring Chester, Berks and Bucks counties has also fallen on hard times.

All four Southeastern Pennsylvania counties were once Republican strongholds, but have been losing ground to the Democrats for the past decade.

In Chester County, Democrats registered more new voters than Republicans did for the May 15 primary, according to the Chester County Department of Voter Services.

While the Democrats still have a long way to go to catch up to registered Republicans, they are closing the gap while the county's Republican Party looks more hapless every day.

There are 96,543 registered Democrats in Chester County, a pickup of 3,165 more Democratic voters than in last November's election. That’s a 3.2 percent increase.

Registered Republicans in Chester County total 158,763, up by 2,388 since last fall. That's a 1.5 percent increase.

The increase in registered voters is the latest coup for the Democrats, who last year won a state Senate seat and two House seats, including the race that gave Democrats a 1-vote majority in the state House.

The gap is closing in Bucks County, too, with Democrats picking up new recruits while Republicans lose ground. There's even talk that Democrats can take the county commissioners' race this year.

Things aren't much better in Berks County, where the party chairman, Ron Stanko, took a leave of absence to run for county judge. The Berks GOP has been sailing without a rudder for months.

Democrats took control of the Berks County Board of Commissioners four years ago and are working hard to keep it. There's also a possibility that Democrats can win the sheriff's office in Berks County this year.

The rest of the county row offices appear safe, but you never know.

The party has been listless for years and Stanko didn't do much to end the malaise in the party before he took his leave. The GOP in Berks dropped the ball in 2006 when it failed to come up with candidate it could support to succeed longtime state Rep. Dennis Leh, turning over the seat to a Democrat for the first time decades.

The problem with the way a lot of these county organizations are run is that power is concentrated entirely in one or two people. When the top person isn't around, nobody knows what to do. And the party chairman isn't always the sharpest tool in the shed, either. Committee members tend to vote for the person who's been around the longest, regardless of ability.

And like career politicians, once a party member gets to be chairman, they don't want to step aside. That leads to stagnation and resentment. That leads to a party that plays defense all the time. That's exactly what’s happening in Berks, Chester and Montgomery.

The problem in Berks, Bucks and Chester, just as in Montgomery, is leadership.

The incumbent party chairmen have watched from the sidelines as Democrats recruit more voters and field better candidates. The bottom line is more Democratic officials in all three counties.

Party officials should learn a lesson from the 2006 election cycle when Republicans dumped the old guard (Brightbill and Jubelirer) and replaced them with energetic younger candidates.

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