Pennsylvania Democrats in 2019 took control of the three-member Board of Commissioners in suburban Philadelphia's populous and competitive Bucks County for the first time since 1983, and Republicans are determined to flip it back this November.
County commission races operate under different rules in Pennsylvania than they do pretty much anywhere else. All three seats are elected countywide, and voters can select up to two candidates. However, each party can only nominate two candidates in the May primary, so the board will wind up with a 2-1 split no matter what: The question is which party will get the vital second seat they need to control the body.
Democrats managed to end the GOP’s decades-long winning streak in a very close 2019 contest. Incumbent Diane Ellis-Marseglia, who was the party’s only commissioner, took first with 27%, while Republican state Rep. Gene DiGirolamo secured second with 25%. The battle for that crucial third-place spot ended with Democrat Bob Harvie, who was the chair of the Falls Township Board of Supervisors, edging out Republican incumbent Robert Loughery 24.2-24.0—a 665 vote margin that decided control of the government in this county of close to 650,000 people.
All three commissioners are running again, while two Republicans are also competing in the primary: Andy Warren, who served on the Commission from 1980 to 1995 and has since run for several offices as both a Democrat and a Republican, and County Controller Pamela Van Blunk, who won her post in 2021 after defeating Warren for the nomination. The field could expand further as LevittownNow.com reports that other Republicans are eyeing the contest ahead of the March 7 filing deadline.
Bucks County has been in the blue column in every presidential election from 1992 on, though some of those wins, such as Hillary Clinton’s 48.4-47.6 score in 2016, were very tight. The backlash against Donald Trump did help local Democrats take four of Bucks' five so-called "row offices," which are the countywide offices other than commissioner, in 2017, which marked the first time that the party had won a single one of those posts in over 30 years.
However, while Joe Biden carried the county 52-47, Blunk and the rest of the 2021 GOP ticket went on to sweep all five row offices. In 2022, now-Sen. John Fetterman took Bucks County 52-45 as fellow Democrat Josh Shapiro pulled off a crushing 59-39 win during his gubernatorial landslide, victories that Key Stone State Democrats hope will foreshadow more successes here this fall and into 2024.