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Montco GOP Candidates Seek to Prevail Over History, Voter Registration

Joe Biden carried Montgomery County by 25 points over Donald Trump in 2020.

Liz Ferry and Tom DiBello believe they can turn it from blue back to red. Their plan? Winning the support of its 64,423 unaffiliated voters.

“We are planning on retaking the county for Republicans and believe our commonsense positions will resonate with all voters,” said Ferry. She and DiBello are running as the Republican candidates for Montgomery County commissioner.

Their optimism may sound like a fantasy. Even running against relatively unknown Democrats Jamila Winder and Neil Makhija won’t be easy. The Republican Party’s reversal in the county in recent years has been dramatic.

In 1999, Montgomery County Republican voter registrations outnumbered Democrats 266,161 to 159,731. Just over a decade later, when Democrats took control of county government, Democratic registrations had surged past the GOP 245,562 to 209,519.

As of two weeks ago, there were now 301,523 registered Democrats and just 202,983 Republicans in the county, according to state records.

Republican Tom Ellis, a lawyer who was a county commissioner from 2004 to 2008, told DVJournal that Republicans are fighting an image problem because of former President Donald Trump and the abortion issue. Many Delaware Valley mainstream Republicans have rejected Trump after years of scandal and abrasiveness from the former president.

“Montgomery County was the first of the collar counties to go Democrat,” said Ellis. “Some of it was external pressures, but some was internal.”

“The suburban Republicans, the collar counties, were always fiscally conservative but socially moderate. And as long as you could deliver, keep the taxes down, that’s all people wanted,” said Ellis.

“The social stuff came in with Roe v. Wade, and that really hurt the party. And when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned it in June, it hurt candidates in the November election, like Todd Stephens.”

Stephens, a long-serving state representative for the Horsham area, narrowly lost his seat. “There were a number of people, especially women, who said they were not voting for any Republican,” said Ellis.

“There were a lot of intra-party struggles, which caused our downfall,” he added. He cited fights between donors and incumbent candidates, as well as intra-party fighting between candidates and established politicians.

“It would have come eventually,” Ellis said, pointing to increased Democratic migration to the county.

The GOP’s nadir in Montgomery County may have been in 2011 when Robert Kerns was the local party chairman, and county commissioners’ seats flipped to Democrats. Kerns managed to face down a rebellion from GOP members but later resigned after he was charged with rape. He pled no contest to indecent assault in 2014, eventually losing his law license and registering as a sex offender.

Former Montgomery County GOP chair Liz Preate Havey, now state party secretary, agreed that Trump “lost the support of suburban voters, especially women.”

“If you talked to people who worked at the polls, the pushback on Trump was like we’ve never seen before,” she told DVJournal.

“And I saw pushback on Bush. The pushback on Trump in the suburbs is tremendous, in Montgomery County was tremendous, and it continues to be. And it’s not just Democrats.”

“I think a lot of it was his personality,” added Havey. “There were a lot of popular policies that he implemented.”

Young voters also had an outsized effect in 2022, Havey said. “Ninety percent of Bryn Mawr students voted Democrat, and they came out in droves in the last election,” she said. “That impacts the Republicans’ ability to win.”

Like Ellis, Havey thinks abortion hurt more than helped Republicans in recent politics. “[T]he Dobbs decision gave Democrats a rallying cry,” she said. “I think pro-life leaders need to rethink their strategies. That could bring back some of our Republican voters.”

Havey is more optimistic about the GOP’s future in the county today.

“We had two commissioners who didn’t get along,” Havey said. “And certainly Joe Gale attacking his fellow Republicans didn’t help. Eight years of (Gale) being the face of the party certainly hurt us.”

But now, “There are two strong candidates who are going to talk about the issues and who are going to debate the Democrats and not sound foolish.”

Montgomery County GOP Chair Christian Nascimento was also hopeful about the near-term future of the GOP in the area.

“The reason that Tom and Liz can win is that we have a unified ticket running for both seats for the first time in over a decade,” he said.

Democrats, meanwhile, “are fighting over a pay-to-play culture that is well documented and turning off registered Democrats and Independents. “

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Nascimento Named New Montco GOP Chairman

The Montgomery County Republican Committee elected Christian Nascimento as its new chairman on Thursday.

Nascimento, a Comcast executive, ran for Congress last year against Rep. Madeleine Dean (D) and is the former president of the Methacton School Board.

“More than 500 members of the Montgomery County Republican Committee met and elected me as chairman and endorsed our slate of countywide candidates,” Nascimento said in a statement. “I am honored and energized to begin this role leading our party. While at times last night, there were disagreements, we will move forward united and focused on electing our fantastic Republican candidates up and down the ballot this year.”

Nascimento bested Stan Casacio by 111 votes. He will serve the last three years of former chair Liz Preate Havey’s term.

Havey decided to relinquish the position due to increasing responsibilities with her law practice, her position as president of the Pennsylvania Society, and campaigning for Judge Carolyn Carluccio, who is running for an opening on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Nascimento told DVJournal he hopes to register more Republican voters.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, as of Feb. 27, there were 301,036 Democrats; 202,928 Republicans; 64,219 not affiliated; and 31,319 voters with other parties.

Nascimento said the values espoused by the GOP appeal to Hispanic voters.

“I think culturally, Hispanic people tend to lean more conservative.” But the GOP needs to reach out to that community, as well as others in the county.

“It’s about really being in front of them in a way that’s not condescending. And not just around election time, right? We need to get out in those communities and pitch ourselves and our ideas and our party 24 hours a day, 12 months of a year basis. We can’t be the party that just shows up around election time and then disappears.

“The Republican party, like all political parties, has been a little fractured at times,” said Nascimento. “One of the things I think I do a good job at is bridging gaps and building coalitions. And one of the things that I want to do is build a party that is less divided and more inclusive and welcoming and is that ‘big tent’ we’ve talked about.

“My focus is to go out and bring people into the fold, energizing our base,” said Nascimento. “And building a party structure that will support qualified candidates who will serve the people of Montgomery County well.

“We’ve got to have some fun with this,” he said. “I think we’ve got to have a happy warrior type. We’ve got to push our message, but doing it in a way that’s going to bring people into the fold, not push them away.”

As for mail-in balloting, Nascimento said it has been problematic, but the GOP must get on board if it expects to win.

“These are the rules we have,” said Nascimento. “We can’t ignore them.”

“What I tell people is if you don’t like the way that they are effectuated, then you have a decision to make,” he said. “You’ve got to go support candidates that will change that but barring that, they’re not going to go away. And so we’ve got to learn to use the tools that are at our disposal.”

The committee also endorsed candidates in the upcoming May 16 primary.

Upper Dublin Commissioner Liz Ferry and Tom DiBello, the former Spring Ford Area School District president, for county commissioner. Voters will select only two commissioner candidates for the November ballot. Joe Gale, the sitting Republican commissioner on the three-person Board of Commissioners is running for re-election but announced he did not want the committee’s endorsement.

Other endorsements included the county row offices: Charlie Rosenbaum for judge of the Common Pleas Court; Stephanie Donofry for clerk of courts; Martin Dickerson for controller; Annamarie Scannapieco for coroner, Doug Hager for recorder of deeds; and Cheryl Bonavita for register of wills.

The county GOP also endorsed Ed Moye for sheriff and Tim Mahon for treasurer.

“I am thrilled that we have a strong slate of candidates running for office with Liz Ferry and Tom DiBello leading the ticket for county commissioner. Both Tom and Liz are committed to running together to win back the courthouse unlike Joe Gale who sent a letter to the committee that Republicans should only support him because he thinks we can’t beat the Democrats,” said Havey. “For the first time in years, the Democrats are very fractured and put up two new candidates for commissioner that represent the far left of the Democrat party.

“New Chairman Christian Nascimento understands the importance of running to beat the Democrats and not throwing in the towel as the Minority Commissioner has suggested. Chairman Nascimento is a proven leader who immediately started uniting the committee after a tough election for Chair,” Havey added.

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