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Bucks County Commission race will tell us which party will have the upper hand in 2024

This year, it’s home to a local race that has the hallmarks of a race for national office: candidates battling to ban books from schools, crime and public safety, and securing democracy in the next presidential election.

“As Pennsylvania goes, so goes the 2024 presidential race. And as Bucks County goes, Pennsylvania goes. Everybody should be deeply concerned about that,” said state Sen. Steve Santarsiero, chairman of the Party Bucks County Democrat.

Democrats won control of the three-member board of county commissioners in 2019, capturing it for the first time since 1983. But Fitzpatrick won re-election again in 2020, even though Biden carried his district, and in 2021 the Republicans roared back and swept a list of offices in line here.

Now, Republicans are looking to regain control of the county board this year.

A loss for either party would be a major warning sign ahead of 2024. For Democrats, an inability to hold on to newly reshuffled offices in a county they’ve held reliably but narrowly at the presidential level could be a sign of waning enthusiasm. And for Republicans, failing to take back a county commission they’ve dominated for decades could mean a key battleground county continues to slip away.

Bucks also presents an all-in-one geographic test case before 2024, stretching from neighborhoods directly facing northeast Philadelphia, with a large suburban core of the county and more rural areas in the upper part of Bucks. Democrats have begun to outperform in the suburbs, especially in Pennsylvania, so whoever emerges victorious in the county commissioner race could be a sign of which way the suburbs are leaning.

Bucks has been embroiled in culture war struggles, like many other suburbs across the country. Republicans won the 2021 Central Bucks School District board races in a landslide, in part, on the mask mandates. But the new majority has also done it book bans on titles with so-called “sexualized content” and forbidden to teachers displays Pride flags.

Democrats have denounced the hyperconservative group’s involvement Mothers for Freedom in Central Bucks, the county’s largest school district and one of the state’s largest, and argue that the school board’s new policies are causing strong backlash and protests.

“There are definitely Republicans who are motivated by this, but we’re seeing in this county, the backlash is huge,” said acting Democratic Commissioner Bob Harvie. “We’re seeing a lot of very, very motivated and angry people on our side who just don’t think schools should become political battles.”

Harvie and Diane Marseglia, the other Democrat on the county board of commissioners, are seeking re-election, as is Republican Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo. Next to DiGirolamo is Pamela Van Blunk, the county controller who won the position in that 2021 sweep.

An unusual statutory setup in Pennsylvania guarantees that the minority party will hold a seat in Bucks. Each party fields two candidates and voters can vote for up to two candidates in November, with the top three vote-getters winning a seat. County officials from both parties say that effectively means it’s a race between Harvie and Van Blunk, with the other incumbents having much longer terms to carry them to victory.

Harvie and Marseglia said in an interview at a restaurant in Levittown, Pa., that the setback to the controversial school board was palpable and that voters would respond in November in their races. If they do, it could be an early indicator for a more aggressive approach by national Democrats eager to push back in similar fights across the country.

Bucks United, the general campaign to get both elected, has tried to tie Van Blunk to the school district fight. A recent announcement of the group said she is “not moderate,” said a “MAGA extremist who helps elect school boards that ban books” across the commonwealth is one of her biggest supporters, calling her too extreme for the county.

But Van Blunk tried to distance himself from school board fights. Asked about the board in an interview at the county GOP headquarters, a converted 1800s-era house in Doylestown, he bristled and bristled at the ad’s description. “I am not a MAGA republican. I’m a Bucks County Republican,” he said.

“The current Democrat[ic] commissioners are very divisive, they’re waging the culture wars,” he said. “To bring divisive culture wars into an area of ​​government where that’s not their role or realm, you’re just dividing people further.”

Van Blunk, on the other hand, said one of the “biggest problems facing Bucks County is a significant increase in crime,” and touted the endorsement of a local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police. He also said he would focus on fighting the opioid epidemic.

Democrats also say they campaign on local issues. Harvie and Marseglia highlight the modernization of county services since taking control of the council, as well as a program that combines a social worker “correspondent” with police departments.

But the rules for the 2024 election in Bucks County are also central to Democrats’ argument. “The county commissioners control how you vote,” Harvie told a gathering of about two dozen Middletown Township Democrats, warning that a loss this November would mean next year’s election could be determined by ” republican rules”.

At risk, he says, are the collection boxes that county officials installed and mail ballot curation policies. He told the crowd in 2020 that Bucks was sued eleven times, either by state Republicans or the Trump campaign, over his election policies and won every case.

Without a Democratic commission, “the road is going to be much more difficult for any Democrat running next year — president, Senate, Congress, whatever,” he said.

And Democrats are also very critical of Patricia Poprik, the county GOP chairwoman, who was one of the “false voters” in Pennsylvania in 2020, saying the county party shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the mechanics of an election in a swing county.

In an interview, Poprik dismissed his role: “Some people call me a RINO and some people call me a fake voter, so I must be doing something right,” he said.

Poprik described his decision to register as a “protective mechanism” since the lawsuits were ongoing in the state, saying “it was never because the lawsuits were never won, so it’s moot.” Unlike the bogus voters in many other states, The Pennsylvania slate included a clause that their votes should be counted only if after a “Final non-appealable Court Order or other proceedings prescribed by law, we are ultimately recognized as duly elected and qualified electors.”

Asked if he regretted his role, he told POLITICO he did not. “You know a lot more now, but what we knew at the time, you knew there were lawsuits and there was a chance you could be a voter.”

That, Democrats say, is no excuse. “Just because they were smart enough in Pennsylvania to insist on language that may be sufficient to avoid criminal charges doesn’t mean they weren’t part of an overarching conspiracy to undermine the legitimacy of our 2020 presidential election.” , Santarsiero said. , the Democratic County Chair. “They are not absolved of that.”


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