The race to gain the majority on the Bucks County Board of Commissioners is well underway and efforts by both parties to control the government for one of the largest counties in the state are ramping up.
The race between Democratic incumbents Bob Harvie and Diane Ellis-Marseglia and Republican incumbent Gene DiGirolamo and current county Controller Pamela Van Blunk will be decided this November by voters.
According to the state’s county code, county commissioners are elected every four years. The commissioners are made up of two members from one party and one member from the minority, which depends on vote totals. The officials oversee county government and the workforce spread throughout; control the budget for county government, the courts, and elect row offices; and appoint citizens to boards and authorities.
Democrats and Republicans are expected to heavily invest in campaigns, which is largely seen as a bellwether for the 2024 election cycle, one that includes races for a U.S. Senate seat and the presidency. This year, it is projected that millions will be spent by the county campaigns.
Insiders from the county Democratic and Republican parties all told this news organization in recent weeks that Bucks County’s moderate voter base makes the race competitive, and both parties are separated by only a few thousand registered voters. However, several Democrats and Republicans who have worked in politics have stated Republicans may be impacted by divisive culture war issues that are overtaking the party and can cause splits.
One of the factors that makes the race interesting for Harvie, Ellis-Marseglia, and DiGirolamo is that they’ve passed nearly all the items on the commissioners’ agendas since 2020 in a bipartisan fashion, with very few memorable hang ups. Two notable disagreements, including one this week, were on the Democratic majority not reappointing Republicans to boards.
Representatives for the Democratic and Republican campaigns both said the incumbent candidates will focus on their record of governing and putting Bucks Countians first.
Polling conducted for the Democratic campaign recently showed Van Blunk with the lowest name recognition among the four candidates, which isn’t unexpected for a candidate who is presently holding the less-visible controller seat. Harvie and DiGirolamo are in their first terms in county government, but previously served in elected roles, while Ellis-Marseglia has been a commissioner for more than a decade.
Democratic polling from May showed Ellis-Marseglia with 42 percent support, DiGirolamo with 41 percent, Harvie 39 percent, and Van Blunk with 36 percent.
Bucks County GOP Chairperson Pat Poprik, citing the Democratic polling numbers, said the Republican campaign is not disappointed and that it means Van Blunk is nearly neck-and-neck with Harvie.
Poprik said the Republicans are going to make the case that they’re better at governing Bucks County. They previously held the majority for decades.
Dan McCormick, a spokesperson for the Democratic ticket, thinks Harvie and Ellis-Marseglia have a story to tell to voters that the Democrats have put people over party.
“Diane and Bob have a real record to run on and that it is pretty positive for Bucks County residents,” he said, citing passing a budget with no tax increase, investing in public safety, and supporting small businesses during COVID-19.
McCormick said it has been shown that the Democratic commissioners have “Bucks County values” and are “middle of the road.” He cited poll numbers that residents believed the commissioners handled COVID-19 with a balanced approach.
Poprik said the Democratic majority has been “too political,” and a Republican majority would “not be so political.” She also believes national issues will help earn votes for Republican candidates this fall.
“Gene votes what is best for the county,” Poprik said. “I want a commissioner who will put the county’s best interest first. I think you need to do what is best for the county.”
She noted that DiGirolamo often votes with his Democratic commissioners because many of the votes aren’t on hyper-political matters.
Poprik said DiGirolamo has supported the COVID-19 grants for small businesses and voted to support election security, like adding staff and cameras to mail-in voting drop boxes.
McCormick said the “far-left and far-right can dominate the conversation, but Bob and Diane want to focus on issues that the majority of the community is talking about.”
Poprik said she doesn’t believe national culture war issues will get in the way of the GOP candidates.
The biggest population center in the county is Lower Bucks County, and Harvie, Ellis-Marseglia, and DiGirolamo all live there.
Both parties see voters in the lower end as key to winning elections.
It is likely that both campaigns will push their candidates’ Bucks County credentials and the Lower Bucks County roots for the three candidates. Van Blunk lives in Central Bucks County, which is the second most populated section of the county.
“Bob and Diane hear about issues like the economy, public safety, and COVID-19,” McCormick said. “They’re not the ultra-rich people who sometimes get elected into office. When there are those issues, people are coming to them, and Bob, who was a teacher, and Diane, a social worker, feel those issues. They are regular people in the community.”
Poprik said both the Republican candidates know issues like crime and the economy first hand.
“They’re working all over the county, and they’re door knocking and going to events,” she said. “They hear about those issues.”
Among some Republicans involved in politics, Van Blunk caused a flap recently because she was in Europe on vacation over the July 4th holiday as Harvie, Ellis-Marseglia, and DiGirolamo were all out on the campaign trail.
Poprik said she doesn’t think the trip will have an impact on the election.
“The trip was planned in advance,” she said. “We knew for months that the trip was planned.”
Both sides said voters will see more about each party’s candidates leading up to November.