Local GOP turns out for national races, can’t fill ticket on county level

May 19, 2013

Washington County Republicans could celebrate vote totals in Washington County in the presidential race, but in 2013, as in 2009, there is less than a full slate of GOP countywide candidates.

In the last election cycle, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney outpolled President Barack Obama, a Democrat, by 11,952 votes and a margin of 13 percent. When Sen. John McCain in 2008 won Washington County by 4,467 votes over Obama, he was the first Republican to do so since Richard Nixon’s 1972 landslide over Democrat George McGovern.

In the 2010 U.S. Senate election, the majority of Greene County voters chose Democrat Joe Sestak over Republican Pat Toomey, who carried Washington County and, in the end, Pennsylvania. By 2012, both counties were in Republican Tom Smith’s column, although incumbent Republican Bob Casey Jr. prevailed statewide.

A statewide website shows Washington County with 75,850 Democrats, 48,575 Republicans and 14,939 independents and others as of May 13. Greene County has 13,845 Democrats and 6,444 Republicans.

Over the winter, the Republican Party actively recruited candidates at municipal, school district and county levels, but there is just one registered Republican in the Washington County judicial race where two are to be elected, and only one candidate filed for the three row offices on the ballot this year.

The three row offices are held by incumbent Democrats. GOP challenger Angela Carrier filed nominating petitions as a candidate for controller. Michael Namie is seeking his fourth four-year term. Namie four years ago captured both the Republican and Democratic nominations, besting a write-in GOP candidate.

No Republican filed for the recorder of deeds office where Debbie Bardella is seeking a fifth four-year term, but there is believed to be a write-candidacy afoot. Bardella said she will not be making a try to garner both nominations.

“It wasn’t necessarily perfect timing for her,” Washington County GOP Chairman William Merrell said of the unannounced candidate. “She decided a little bit after the petition signing. People have to make those decisions on their own time.”

Republicans expressed interest in running for sheriff against Samuel Romano, who is seeking a third four-year term, but Merrell said, “We had some people come to us about the sheriff’s position, but we suggested they needed more experience in management as well as police work. I appreciate all policemen, both full time and part time, but one needs years of experience to run an operation as large and meaningful as the sheriff’s department is.”

There are just two countywide offices on the primary ballot in Greene County – sheriff and coroner.

The incumbent sheriff, Richard Ketchem, chose not to seek another term, a decision that brought out three Democratic candidates to run for the seat. The candiates are Bryan Tennant, Erik Ketchem and William Lewis Jr. Greene County GOP Chairman Jim Minor, when asked why no Republican sought to run in the sheriff’s primary, said, “No one filed any nominating petitions.”

No Republican opted to challenge Gregory Rohanna, the Democratic coroner, either.

Of the eight candidates trying for two Washington County judgeships, just one, Lane Turturice, is a registered Republican and he, as recently as 2010, was a Democrat.

Merrell does not view this as a hindrance, noting that he himself was a Democrat up until 10 years ago.

“I was very liberal in my younger years. If John F. Kennedy were here today, he would be a Republican,” the GOP chairman said.

The seven Democrats running for judge are Alan Benyak, Blane Black, Valarie Costanzo, Thomas Fallert, Charles Kurowski, Michael Lucas and Peter V. Marcoline III. All have cross-filed. Elections office records show Lucas registered independent in 2007 and 2008.

Merrell was pleased to see many Republicans filing for local offices.

“I would like to see every position contested,” Merrell said. “We’re going to get the conservative idea out in the community. We’re starting to resonate more and more.”

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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