“Turnout is everything in this election. I think we’ve done a good job of making people aware of the election and why it’s important,” said Cheltenham Township Democratic Co-chair Deb McCarter.
Election Day is Tuesday, No. 3.
McCarter spoke with a restrained confidence Monday morning about the results she’s anticipating – and certainly hoping for. “If turnout is good, we have the opportunity to sweep the (county) row offices,” which would be the first time ever for the Democrats. “I have a good feeling from the contact I’ve had with the public. Volunteers are calling me out of the blue – wanting to help. As long as we have people energized and get them out to vote, I think that’s the ticket. I’m optimistic,” said McCarter.
In odd year elections, especially the municipals, the rub is always turning people out. Cheltenham’s voter participation rates are usually higher than most of Montgomery County, and Montgomery County generally surpasses most of the state. But that doesn’t mean the numbers are impressive, or even passable. It’s that lack of pizzaaz for most voters when all that’s on the ballot are statewide races for judge (who are these people?) and county and local offices. Four years ago, when Montco Democrats took control of the county board of commissioners for the first time in 150 years and most of the row offices, they did it with a total turnout of 32 percent of registered voters. It didn’t hurt that Democratic registrations had surpassed those of Republicans by almost 36,000 as of the May primary. Cheltenham’s turnout was 43 percent.
Are there motivating factors this year that will have voters charging to the polls on Tuesday? Unlikely, although for the political gladiators, who pretty much always turn out, there are some strong reasons to cast a ballot. Setting aside the vital local races for school board and township board of commissioners for the moment, there are seats on the state courts, especially the three up for grabs on the PA Supreme Court, which have made some noise and attracted big money. The court exercises a major role on legislative reapportionment/gerrymandering and will be taking up Act 13 regulation of gas drilling (announced today). Throw in a pivotal case on the constitutional right to a “thorough and efficient education” and perhaps voting rights and those alone are some pretty big reasons to vote for Supreme Court.
The countywide races don’t draw much attention, although some are thinking that in Montgomery County the board of commissioners and maybe the DA contest (Castor v. Steele) could be the exceptions. The Shapiro-Arkoosh ticket seems to have generated some spirited support from Democrats, but it’s a long shot to draw those who prefer staying home to wading through a ballot filled with row officers and judges. Even Joe Radosevich, the Shapiro-Arkoosh campaign manager, is not counting on moving increased numbers to the polls, although he points out that Montco tends to lead the rest of the state in turnout, and they expect that pattern to continue.
As long as turnout doesn’t dip from four years ago, he said, “I’m bullish on a (Democratic) sweep” of the row offices plus a county board win. With an almost nine percent bulge in registrations over the Republicans, it might not be far-fetched. Certainly with a divided G.O.P. and a Democratic fundraising edge, it is difficult to imagine how control of the county board could not stay with the Democrats. What will be watched closely is which Republican, the insurgent Joe Gale or party endorsed Steve Tolbert, will win the minority seat. Either way, the board dynamic is likely to change with Bruce Castor gone, but Gale’s presence colliding with the incumbents could put the board back in a fireworks mode not seen in the last four years. On the DA’s race, the guess here is that even Bill Cosby won’t lure voters, but that doesn’t mean Steele, the Democrat, won’t prevail anyway. This one between Steele and Republican Castor, who is trying to take back his DA chair after two terms as county commissioner, could be tight.
Still, Republicans have long been a powerhouse in Montgomery County and politics is an unpredictable business. “I think if Republican voters come out in the western part of county, we have a good chance of winning many of the countywide races,” said Cheltenham Township Republican Organization Chair Myron Goldman. “We have lot of voters in the western part who haven’t come out in the last couple of elections. If they do, we can compensate for Democratic strength in the eastern part.”
The big race locally that some think could be a cliffhanger is for Ward 7 commissioner, pitting 20-year Republican incumbent Charlie McKeown against challenger Irv Brockington. McKeown won by all of 57 votes in 2011 against Heidi Morein thanks to his 165 vote margin in 7-1, but Democrats seem confident that this is the year of McKeown’s political retirement.
“We have the best candidate and I think we’re going to win,” McCarter said simply. But McCarter’s counterpart, Goldman, takes a different view. “Charlie has a real good chance of winning again. He’s been working very hard, and I think both Republicans and Democrats will recognize the good job that he’s done for them,” he said.
Brockington, a 20-year resident of the township, is a mortgage loan officer and president of the Cheltenham Little League. Both candidates have been going hard at knocking on doors and being visible. The campaign has been low-key based on reeling in personal connections made over many years. An opportunity for both to talk face-to-face about issues facing E. Cheltenham and the township was lost when McKeown bowed out of the Oct. 22 Citizens’ Call Candidate Forum.
“I’ve lived in the ward for 15 years, in the township for 20,” said Brockington. I’ve never seen any type of meeting in (precinct) three. I’ve never seen him. As a new resident 15 years ago, my understanding was commissioners would knock on doors to introduce themselves – ‘here’s how to get in touch. How can I help?’ That’s what I think is missing in our ward.”
McKeown also went door-to-door over the weekend. “I’ve been working hard at it.” Democrats dominate registrations in the ward by more than a two to one margin. With the registration disparity, he said, “Of course, I have to work hard. My opponent knows he has the registration edge. I think he’s counting on that.” McKeown added, “I feel good with the response I’m getting from people. I’m not pushing signs, I’m pushing people to get out to vote. I still go out to talk to people with my opponent’s signs in front.”
The other competitive race for commissioner is in Ward 5, with incumbent Democrat Dan Norris facing Republican Thom Estilow. Estilow, though, has a steep climb to overcome a five-to-one registration disparity. He’s been campaigning straight through since the primary, sending out targeted birthday postcards and mailers and doing a lot of talking to voters. Over the weekend he went door-to-door with some Republican school board candidates and was putting the finishing touches on his party’s Get-Out-the-Vote operation. He has 20-30 workers for Ward 5 alone and is arranging to help his party field 60 or more people at the polls to greet voters townshipwide.
“I’ve been involved in competition my entire life. I always think I’m going to win,” said Estilow. “I’ve prepared to win, developed a strategy to win. I’ve done as much as I can and we’ll see where the chips fall on Tuesday. It’s been fun, I’ve never done this before and may never again, depending on how it turns out.” Estilow estimates he needs two votes from Democrats or independents for every Republican vote he gets.
“Thom Estilow is working very hard. He’s a super candidate,” said Goldman. Obviously, registration is strongly against him and we’ll have to see of if the voters are looking for a change.”
Demonstrating some confidence, Dan Norris went campaigning over the weekend, but not just in his ward. He went out with Irv Brockington in Ward 7 to boost his fellow Democrat’s prospects. Norris, a financial specialist, is looking for his second term. He recently sent out a postcard to all residents in his ward outlining his accomplishments and credentials. Norris expects to win.
Like any party leader, McCarter wants her candidates working hard. “I don’t think you assume anything in races – that ‘s our philosophy. We always want the candidates to get out and work.”
School board races in Cheltenham are always a tough slog for Republicans these days since all seats are at-large and the ratio of Democrats to Republicans in the township is more than four-to-one. “If the residents of the township are looking for change and want a more balanced school board that can have a positive impact on taxes and the quality of our schools, then a Republican victory is possible,” pointed out Goldman, who is a candidate.