If you want to take a guess at what will happen in this year's Municipal primary, you can learn a lot from studying what has happened before. That's why I study voter turnout and identify trends to help me predict the different paths the electorate can take. Politics makes for some interesting and unexpected arranged marriages, in this case, one groom (Scott Ott) and three brides (Tom Creighton, Scott Aquila, and Mike Schware.)
So let us take a look at May 2009, the last time the political planets were aligned this way in the Lehigh County Universe
Way back then, two incumbent Republican Commissioners, Creighton and Dougherty, had primary challengers. Because of that, Republican Turnout in their districts was about 5 to 10% points higher than in the other three.
For Example, present County Controller Glenn Eckhart had no challenger in District 5. 2029 Republicans went to the polls, with 1605 voting for Glenn, and an undervote of 424. Getting 80% is a good thing in any election, But at the time Scott Ott was running unopposed for Executive, so neither race had much interest.
But over in District one,Tom Creighton had a knock down drag out fight to retain his seat, and 2451 votes were cast for the two candidates, 846 more than Eckhart had unopposed. And Creighton only defeated Allen Cerullo by 249 votes. That is not all that many.
The point I am trying to make here is that a contested race down ballot, such as County Commissioner, can greatly effect another race, such as County Executive.
This year it looks like there are two Republican County Commissioner races that could tilt the County Executive race between Scott Ott and Dean Browning either way.
The big one is Scott Aquila's challenge to Incumbent Percy Dougherty. Dougherty is no stranger to challenges, but this time he likely won't be just running against Aquila, he will be running against a Team slate, of Ott and Aquila together. It makes perfect sense for R party chair Wayne Woodman to do this. In 2009 there were 3271 votes cast in the district two race, with Dougherty prevailing over Prinzinger 1842 to 1329. A pretty comfortable win total. But Ott used the "Reform Team" label very successfully in 2011 under Woodman's direction. That play worked well then, and there's no reason to not see it ran again, with Schware, Aquila, Creighton, and Ott running under one united front.
Here is the thing:
I can't ascertain whether for sure who gets the benefit of this political polygamy. Because of redistricting, Dougherty has lost all the Moderate R's in Emmaus to Schware's district 5. Those votes helped Dougherty beat back challengers in the last two cycles. But I'm not sure they will easuly gravitate to Schware. I know that Schware potentially has a challenger in that district, who also happens to be an Emmaus resident. That could increase turnout by R's in district 5 as well.
The point is, the greater the turnout in a primary, the more likely it is that the Moderate voters turnout. Now Woodman's dream team limeup might all get through at the County Commissioner district level, but the cumulative effect over 5 districts is iffy, especially if there are no Republicans on the ballot in district 3 or 4, which covers 90% of Allentown. Allentown is Charlie Dent's home base, and the moderates love him there. Sure, it is likely that only 20 to 25% of the 15,000 registered R's show up to vote, but that is 3000 voters in play.
And the majority of those voters are exactly the kind of voters that Dean Browning needs, the Congressman Charlie Dent moderates. It is easy to understand why R County Chair Wayne Woodman wants loyal foot soldiers lining his ballot roster in November. But the battles he is picking to fight in May just might undermine his overall goal, the County Executive's office. It is still too soon to tell, but when that first attack mailing hits the R mailboxes in mid April, we will know which way the wind is blowing by who lainches the first salvo, and just how hard it hits.