2015 election to test GOP strength in Westmoreland County
Unity attorney Scott Mears, a Democrat, has announced he will run for judge in 2015, the first official declaration in what political leaders say will be an important election year in Westmoreland County.
After decades of being the hunters, Republicans next year will be the hunted as they attempt to defend a stunning courthouse sweep in 2011.
The GOP won a majority on the three-person board of commissioners for the first time in 60 years, along with all five row offices on the ballot.
“In a lot of ways, this election is more important than the one three years ago. We have to show we are capable of governing and doing a good job of governing,” said Michael Korns, chairman of the Westmoreland County Republican Committee.
In 2015, voters will elect a board of commissioners, a sheriff, a treasurer, a controller, a recorder of deeds and a register of wills. Incumbents said it is too early to reveal if they will seek re-election.
Three Common Pleas Court judges will be elected. Appointees David Regoli, a Lower Burrell Democrat, and Harry Smail, a Hempfield Republican, both have said they will run for 10-year terms.
Westmoreland County had long been a stronghold for the Democrats. Republicans first saw success in 2000 when George W. Bush was the first GOP presidential candidate in decades to take the county vote.
Since then, the GOP has slowly gained a stranglehold on Westmoreland County government, although its party membership still lags.
As of last week, Democrats still held a nearly 30,000 edge in voter registration. Democrats number 119,455, while Republicans have 91,555 registered voters, according to the county Elections Bureau.
But that number has been trending more toward the Republican party.
Four years ago, Democrats had a voter registration edge of more than 42,000. A decade ago, there were 54,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in the county.
Despite the deficit, Republicans continue to win most key races.
Westmoreland was one of the few counties last week to support Gov. Tom Corbett’s failed re-election bid. Corbett secured nearly 57 percent of the county vote against Democrat Tom Wolf, who easily won the governor’s office by about 10 percentage points statewide.
“This is a new situation for us, defending incumbents rather than trying to pick off people. And it shows a real strength when the Democrats don’t put up candidates,” Korns said.
That’s what happened this year when Democrats failed to run candidates against Republican Congressman Tim Murphy of Upper St. Clair, as well as against state representatives George Dunbar of Penn Township and Mike Reese of Mt. Pleasant Township, who both won third terms.
“We’re just plugging along at finding candidates — good candidates,” said Henry Boldyzar, chairman of the county’s Democratic Committee. “The party has been asleep for the past 12 to 15 years. People need to get involved.”
Boldyzar took over as chairman last summer. He said he’s been recruiting new members to the committee and is confident the party will field a full slate of candidates next year for the county offices.
“We’re still reforming and reorganizing the committee and getting volunteers involved. It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Boldyzar said.
Democrats were able to defend three incumbents during last year’s row office elections, where District Attorney John Peck, Coroner Ken Bacha and Prothonotary Christina O’Brien won new four-year terms.
The party retained two seats in the state House last week. State Rep. Ted Harhai, D-Monessen, defeated Republican challenger Tom Logan and Rep. Joe Petrarca, D-Oklahoma Borough, defeated Patrick Leyland.
The Republicans view last week’s results in the governor’s race, as well as victories by Pat Stefano for a state Senate seat and victories by state representatives Tim Krieger of Delmont and Eli Evankovich of Murrysville, as a springboard into next year.
“All of that makes us feel voters are responding to what we’re doing in a positive way,” Korns said.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or [email protected].