Five Things to Watch in Philadelphia’s Nov. 8th Election

Could Republicans finally become relevant in this city?

Outside of presidential years, general elections in Philadelphia are typically pretty dull. The city’s all-powerful Democrats tend to sort things out during the May primary, making the November follow-up a fait accompli. That’s mostly the case this time as well, but there are a handful of contests to watch, particularly in the minor leagues (i.e. the Philadelphia GOP).

1. Is the city’s Republican party on the verge of a historic shakeup?
To get a sense of just how endangered the city’s Meehan Republican dynasty actually is, look to how well GOP City Commissioner candidate Al Schmidt performs. The City Charter guarantees the minority party one seat on the three-member Board of Commissioners, which runs elections. That effectively makes the race a contest between Schmidt, the champion of the GOP’s insurgent wing, and incumbent Joseph Duda, a reliable ally of Michael Meehan. If Schmidt wins, it suggests the insurgents have the upper hand. If he wins in a landslide, Meehan and company could soon be on the outs.

2. Can David Oh overcome his self-inflicted wounds?
A few months ago, GOP City Council candidate David Oh looked like a sure winner, part of that insurgent Republican tide intent on making the party relevant in Philadelphia again. But he had a very bad summer, getting called out by special forces veterans as a poser for calling himself a green beret, and having an old weapons arrests publicized by the Daily News. Nonetheless, Oh still has a decent chance to take the second of two GOP at-large City Council seats (most observers think the top spot now belongs to Dennis O’Brien).

3. Just how much has the Great Northeast changed?
The only competitive city Democrat vs. Republican race is in City Council’s 10th District in the Northeast, where 32-year GOP incumbent Brian O’Neill is in the fight of his life against Democrat Bill Rubin, a politically savvy first-time candidate with strong union ties. District voters are leaning more and more Democrat, but O’Neill has held on, largely by doing all he can to freeze time in the Northeast (he famously resists much development and anything else that would change the neighborhood’s character). There’s no grand lesson to be drawn from this race, but it has been hard fought, and it could be very close.

4. Will Bill Green’s vote total reflect his ambitions?
As the only clear mayoral contender on the ballot next week, it will be interesting to see what sort of vote total Councilman Bill Green pulls. He won the second-highest vote total in May (Blondell Reynolds Brown narrowly edged him out), which wasn’t a bad showing considering his poor polling position. This name, he’s the second name on the list (behind Brown).

5. Will voters send Mayor Nutter a message?
We already know that Mayor Nutter will win and win big. But if voters are as sour as they were during the height of the budget cutting, he could see a lot of “message” votes, i.e. ballots cast by people who have no real interest in seeing GOP nominal candidate Karen Brown becoming mayor, but who are pissed off at Nutter and want him to know it. We haven’t had an incumbent mayor facing such a token challenger since Rendell’s second term, when Rendell took almost 79 percent of the vote. Will Nutter beat that mark? Probably not, given that he managed 76 percent of the vote in the primary against Milton Street.