Democratic turnout in last week's primary was extraordinary. In Montgomery County, 50,000 Democrats voted, twice the 2013 number. In Delaware County, as many Democrats voted as Republicans, which a party leader called unprecedented. Trump evidently was a factor.
Voter turnout estimates from last week's primary election have shown the Bucks County Democratic Committee members numbers they haven't seen for at least 10 years.
"This is the largest Democratic turnout for an off-year primary since at least 2007," said John Cordisco, chairman committee. "Even when we were in the middle of (George W.) Bush's presidency, we weren't seeing numbers like this."
Flat voter registration numbers and fewer than 150 contested races in Bucks and eastern Montgomery County inevitably translated to a low-turnout primary. Election officials described voters as apathetic or disinterested in the local races.
The Bucks County Board of Elections reported Friday that 11.6 percent of voters registered as either Democratic or Republican had participated in Tuesday's races.
According to BOE Director Deana Dean, the estimated percentages are calculated based on the local race that had the largest number of votes. This year, the county sheriff primary served that role.
Challenger Milt Warrell recorded 24,230 votes, representing 12.25 percent of county Democrats, setting up his general election bid against incumbent Sheriff Edward "Duke" Donnelly, who attracted 20,559 votes, or 10.92 percent of Republicans.
That 3,000 to 4,000 voter gap holds in favor of the Democratic Party farther down the Bucks row office list, including the offices of district attorney, prothonotary and recorder of deeds. Cordisco says the addition of Eric Nagy and Gary Masino Jr. to help with local campaigns helped the county Democrats lead a successful get-out-the-vote initiative.
"Concern with what's happening in Washington definitely was a factor," said Cordisco. "The addition of (the) two full-time staffers within the party played a bigger role." Nagy and Masino, Cordisco said, "are experienced in running campaigns, and they gave more assistance to local organizations."
Democrats came out strong in Montgomery County as well, with 20.42 percent of party voters lining up on Election Day. That's a 4-point advantage over the Montgomery County Republicans, who finished the day with 16.09 percent of that party's registered voters participating.
By comparison, for the 2013 municipal primary, with the same county offices up for grabs, 15.59 percent of registered Republicans in Bucks County came out to vote. The Democrats attracted 11.22 percent of their party's voters that year. The numbers were a little tighter in Montgomery County four years ago, with 11.47 percent of Republicans leading the 10.31 percent of Democratic voters who turned out.
"There's been a rise of participation in all levels," said Cordisco of the Bucks Democrats. "The municipal meetings I've been to around the county have seen a 50 to 100 percent rise in attendance; there's a greater increase in candidates."
Jim Saring, executive director of the Montgomery County Republican Committee, conceded that the Democrats had an elevated turnout in pockets of the county last week. However, he said, Republicans came out strong in competitive races. For example, District Judge Andrea Duffy cross-filed and won the nomination from both parties for her re-election campaign to the Montgomery Township magisterial court.
"Mike Altieri had strong numbers in the district judge race in East Norriton, in a part of the county that's not very strong for Republicans, usually," said Saring. Altieri will face Democrat Marc Alfarano in the fall. Both cross-filed for the open seat, but Altieri earned more Republican votes (1,041) than Alfarano received Democratic (916).
Cordisco says there's little time to bask in the turnout numbers as the Bucks Democrats start back up with fundraising efforts, door-knocking and getting their message out for the general election in November.