Westmoreland political leaders take contrasting view of election results


Westmoreland County Democratic leaders had high hopes but few expectations with regards the handful of county races on Tuesday’s ballot.

While Republicans maintained control of county government, the more than 31,000 votes received by an underfunded and untested candidate who was on the campaign trail for just two months signaled optimism for the county’s minority political party heading into the 2024 election year cycle.

“We played the hand we were dealt,” county Democratic Committee Chairman Michelle McFall said. “It’s a hard fact that we are outnumbered in Westmoreland County. Had we had the money and resources, she would have won. We could have done it, but we didn’t have the time.”

Republican incumbents Sean Kertes and Doug Chew finished as the top two vote-getters in Tuesday’s county commissioner election and, as a result, the GOP will keep its majority on the board. Democratic Commissioner Ted Kopas won the board’s third seat by virtue of third-place finish, more than 2,400 votes behind Chew. Kertes topped the ballot with 30% of the vote and a 7,000-vote margin over Chew.

Democrat Lisa Gephart, who was added to the ballot in late August as a replacement for the party’s second candidate, who withdrew from the race this summer, received more than 31,500 votes, about 8,000 behind Kopas, despite having little money to operate a campaign that didn’t begin until after Labor Day.

Still, McFall said there were positives to take from the election and pointed the success of Democratic statewide judicial candidates who overperformed in Westmoreland County in comparison to previous elections, helping the party win all four appeals court races this year in Pennsylvania.

But, the party put up no real challenges in a handful of races for countywide row offices in which four Republican incumbents were unopposed. Republican Sheriff James Albert won a second term in a landslide over Democrat Tommy John Hamacher.

“We had a better turnout in 2023 than we had in 2021. While the results were not what we hoped for a number of our school board candidates came out on top and our committee organization and grass roots effort was successful,” McFall said.

Republicans touted Tuesday’s election wins.

GOP Chairman Bill Bretz said the countywide success was a signal that Republicans continue to have a dominant hold on local politics.

“The results were nice to see,” Bretz said. “The Republican Party has shown that our candidates have won the trust of the people in Westmoreland County. Now, it is our job to keep it.”

Political leaders will now turn their attention to 2024’s presidential election. Next year’s ballot will also include elections for seats in the state House and Senate as well as for the county’s two congressional seats.

Bretz said he’s confident Republicans, who hold every seat in the county’s state delegation, will continue to be successsful.

“We expect to continue the momentum we’ve had. The results we’ve had are nice enough but going into the next election we need to have the same engagement and the same amount of energy we had in the last election. What I will tell anyone who considers a challenge to our delegation in Harrisburg is that they should reconsider. We are a force there,” Bretz said.

McFall described that warning as “garbage.”

“That’s not what having a democracy is about. It’s incredible he said that. We don’t know what way the political climate is going to be in a presidential election year,” McFall said. “Everyone is better when they have a challenger and have to work harder.”

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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