First test for Philly’s united Republican Party

    Tomorrow will be a sleepy Election Day in Philadelphia.

    But it occurred to me that this is the first election since Philadelphia’s Republican Party settled a bitter internal fight and elected a new chairman, state Rep. John Taylor.

    For years, a group of insurgents battled longtime GOP leaders, saying in part that the party need to recruit good candidates and contest elections, even when those are long shots.

    The factions united this spring, and chose Danny Alvarez to challenge Democrat Seth Williams for district attorney and Terry Tracy to take on City Controller Alan Butkovitz.

    To say they face an uphill fight is an understatement. The Democratic incumbents are better-known, better-funded, and enjoy the advantage of a six-to-one registration edge.

    But that’s not the point. The newly united and energized party’s goal is to find impressive candidates who outshine their Democratic rivals and make the point that this one-party town would be better off with real competition.

    And the point seems easier to make in the election of a controller and district attorney, since those offices have a watchdog function, and it’s arguably a good idea to fill them with folks who aren’t in tight with the Democratic machine.

    How have they done?

    From my limited observation, Tracy seems the better-prepared and better-spoken candidate of the two, though both brought youth and energy to their campaigns. Neither has been able to raise enough money for a media campaign, so they haven’t gotten much attention.

    Taylor, the new party chairman who’s doing his best to get the feuding factions to work together, told me the fundraising of Tracy and Alvarez compares favorably with past campaigns, and he noted that you don’t need that many votes to have an impact in a forgotten election like this.

    “There’s going to be a 10 percent, 12 percent turnout,” Taylor said. “And that makes it a very finite group of voters who are going to be voting. It’s more the size of a (state) Senate district or two than a citywide election.”

    I remember when there was a viable Republican Party in this town. They ran good candidates, held a half-dozen legislative seats and competed in City Council and sometimes even mayoral elections.

    The party’s unification isn’t quite a finished product yet. There are still some disputed ward leaderships that should be resolved next spring.

    But probably the biggest obstacle Philadelphia Republicans face in resurrecting the organization is the national party. As long as Ted Cruz sets the agenda, the GOP will have a tough time in this town.

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