In Delco, a Bruiser of a Special Election

As GOP dominance fades in the county, the fight for a House district gets intense.

From left to right, Leanne Krueger-Braneky, Paul Mullen and

From left to right, Leanne Krueger-Braneky, Paul Mullen and Lisa Esler.

Suburban politics usually falls outside of Citified’s focus, but we’re going to make a quick exception for the special election in Delaware County’s 161st House District, which includes Swarthmore and other communities north and west of Chester.

The election — which will be decided Tuesday by presumably a tiny slice of hard core voters — has turned into a three-way scrum featuring Democrat Leanne Krueger-Braneky, Republican Paul Mullen, and Lisa Esler, who is mounting a credible write-in campaign and running to the right of Mullen. They’re vying to replace Republican Joe Hackett, who resigned less than four months after being sworn in for another term.

So what makes the race worth paying attention to? A couple things.

1. Philly needs friends in the suburbs.

Granted, Democrats are badly outnumbered in the Pennsylvania House, 120-83, so it’s not as though Gov. Wolf’s budget will triumph and city schools will get more cash if Krueger-Braneky gets elected. But the city’s suburbs really are where Philadelphia can most plausibly find allies in Harrisburg over matters like school funding. The city certainly does have some moderate Republican friends in the ‘burbs, but Philadelphia’s priorities are generally going to be more in line with Democratic suburban candidates than GOP ones.

And in this race, the Democrat, Krueger-Braneky, looks to have a real chance. Mullen is skipping the election’s only two debates, and Esler’s write-in campaign seems sure to siphon votes away from him.

2. It’s a test of the GOP Delco machine.

Delaware County Republicans have long run one of the most dominant and tightly run county political operations in the state. There hasn’t been a Democrat on the County Council in decades. Remarkably, that run has continued even as registered Democrats have begun to slightly outnumber registered Republicans in the district. But the GOP is losing its grip on House seats in Delaware County. There are five House Republicans with Delco districts, compared to four House Democrats.

Special elections, though, are where political machines often thrive. Casual voters very rarely show up for one-office special elections (particularly those in the dead of summer). But party stalwarts do.

If Mullen pulls this out, fending off both a strong Democratic challenger and a write-in right-wing foe, the Delco GOP will have sent a message that it’s as strong as ever, changing demographics and party registration be damned. If the election goes the other way, well, then the message is very different indeed.

For more on this interesting election, check out the Delco Times, which is all over the race.