The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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January 26, 2008

County Democrats could be deciders

Erie Congressional candidates seek a win here

WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA — U.S. Rep. Phil English has represented Mercer County in Congress for 13 years and consistently bested a series of challengers at election time.

This year, Democrats smell blood in the water and the 3rd District race has drawn the largest field of candidates since the seat was open in 1994, the year English was first elected.

And this year, Mercer County might just have a big say in who gets a shot at taking the Erie Republican on in November.

Because the four announced Democratic candidates are all from Erie, there’s a chance they could split the primary vote on their home turf, Mercer County Democratic Chairman Bob Lark said.

Outside of Erie County, the most likely place in the district to find Democratic votes is in Mercer County, he said.

“I think we’re going to be the deciding factor,” Lark said.

Making a major impression on voters in Mercer County could tip the scales in a candidate’s favor, he said.

But a candidate can’t get clobbered in Erie County and expect to make it up here, said Dr. Michael Coulter, a Grove City College political science professor who also serves as a Republican borough councilman.

Coulter, who has been tracking voting patterns for years, said for Mercer County to be the deciding factor in the Democratic primary, the votes in Erie County would have to be evenly split.

“So I would say every candidate has to have an Erie County strategy and a strategy for outside that,” Coulter said.

Lark said each of the candidates has their following in Erie, possibly creating a situation similar to 1994, when Bill Leavens of Hermitage was nominated after four Erie candidates split the vote up north.

Perhaps with that in mind, the candidates haven’t been ignoring Mercer County. They have been attending different functions and “each of them I’ve met in person,” Lark said.

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