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Westmoreland row office incumbents enjoy wave of approval

| Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Democratic and Republican leaders in Westmoreland County declared victory on Wednesday, a day after incumbents from both parties won re-election to row offices.

For the Democrats, District Attorney John Peck won a fifth term, Coroner Ken Bacha secured a fourth term, and Prothonotary Christina O'Brien took a second term.

Clerk of Courts Bryan Kline became the first Republican to win re-election to a county row office in more than 50 years.

“There wasn't a huge anti-incumbency movement around the state,” said G. Terry Madonna, a professor of public affairs and director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College. “This was a status quo election locally and came down to whatever party turned out the votes.”

In Westmoreland, Republicans hold six offices, and Democrats have three.

Voter turnout from each political party was not tracked during the election, but there was evidence that partisan politics affected the results.

About 23 percent of more than 60,000 voters who cast ballots voted a straight-party ticket. Results showed that more than 7,100 Democrats and 6,800 Republicans strictly voted along party lines.

Turnout on Tuesday was 25 percent.

Although Democrats hold a registration edge of more than 30,000 voters, Republicans have dominated local and state elections in recent years. Two years ago, the GOP swept five row offices and won two out of three commissioner seats.

Republicans said they continued to make gains on Tuesday, citing Kline's re-election and the uncontested victory of Meagan Bilik DeFazio, who was elected a Common Pleas Court judge. The Republican won both parties' nominations in the primary.

“I don't view it as a step back. We maintained our momentum as we move forward to 2014 and 2015,” said Jill Cooper, chairwoman of the county's Republican committee.

The Republicans put up Murrysville patent attorney Peter Borghetti against Peck and former Deputy Coroner F. Christopher O'Leath against Bacha.

Both lost in landslides.

Newcomer Mike Powers came within 2,000 votes of defeating O'Brien.

Cooper said the power of incumbency decided the local races.

“The judge race was our signature victory,” Cooper said. “Realistically, we were hoping to take three of the five races.”

Democrats said internal changes to the party structure and an emphasis on grassroots campaigning led them to victory.

“We're just rebuilding the party and the message we had was Westmoreland County is a finicky county” that could fluctuate in a given election cycle, said Jesse Walker, executive director of the local Democratic committee. “We have gotten away from grassroots politics on the local level. We are really getting back to that.”

The incumbents' victories not only halted the Republican gains but provided Democrats some momentum heading into next year's state races for governor, representatives and senators, Walker said.

“This was really a boost for us with the results being what they were. We stemmed the tide and put a dent in it,” Walker said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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