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Election 2011 Countdown: Casting Shadows In the Montgomery County Election

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By Larry Kane, Special Contributor KYW Newsradio

A week away from the so-called off year election, there are some real mysteries of the most watched election in this region – the struggle for control of Montgomery County government. State Representative Josh Shapiro and Whitemarsh Supervisor Leslie Richards, the Democrats, are waging an expensive campaign against incumbent Republican Bruce Castor and Jenny Brown, a Lower Merion Commissioner. Unless lightning strikes, it appears that Shapiro and Castor will finish one and two, which means that the third place winner, one of the so-called running mates will tip the election. The three top vote getters are elected.

Sources report to us that private polling shows Shapiro and Castor ahead in the top two slots, and the contest for that coveted third spot is, according to both sides, very close.

But there is a back-story here that could make a difference. It involves a political feud that is one of the most bitter in the history of this region.

Bob Asher, a Republican National Committee member from Pennsylvania, has been fighting a political war with Castor since 2004. Castor has fought back, both sides displaying a vengeance rarely see in politics anywhere.

Asher was convicted of bribery and other charges in connection with the awarding of a state contract on the 1980’s. He served a year in jail, and began an extraordinary and successful political comeback. Deeply respected as a master fund-raiser, he helped engineer the election of popular Governor Tom Ridge in 1994, and was the primary architect of the election of the current Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett.

Castor, then the District Attorney, meanwhile, incurred Asher’s wrath when he moved to block Asher’s appointment to the SEPTA Board. In 2004, after first backing Castor, and enraged about Castor’s actions, threw his support to Tom Corbett against Castor in the Attorney General’s contest. Further infuriating Asher, Castor constantly repeatedly referred in that election to Asher’s conviction, which happened some 18 years earlier. That backfired because Corbett was elected and on the road to becoming Governor.

This year, Asher is publicly staying away from the Castor-Shapiro battle for control. After all, Asher is a Republican. But key Republican fund-raisers, loyal to Asher, and disenchanted with Castor, have contributed to the Democratic campaign. And some Republican Party leaders will do little to get out the vote.

I’ve been observing political feuds for 46 years in this community. I have never seen one this bitter, this deep, so much so that efforts by regional and national political leaders have tried to mediate with total failure. It is interesting that Bob Asher tried to make things right by offering to support the Castor—Jim Matthews’s ticket for Commissioner in 2007. Castor rejected the support, forcing GOP Commissioner Matthews to work out a ruling coalition with the minority (Democrat) Commissioner Joe Hoeffel.

Now the question remains: Will efforts by Castor’s Republican enemies once again deny Castor the “majority of two” that he needs to win against young Democratic star Josh Shapiro.

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