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MontCo GOP feud could spill into Lt. Gov. race

BLUE BELL—For more than a year, Montgomery County’s Republican Commissioners have been at each other’s throats politically. Commissioners Jim Matthews and Bruce Castor were elected by county voters in late 2007, promising the GOP control over county policy even as is struggled to hold onto voters. But Matthews infuriated Republicans by shunning Castor, instead forming a power-sharing agreement with Democratic Commissioner Joe Hoeffel. This has effectively locked Castor out of power, and embroiled the county GOP in bitter dispute.

Soon, that toxic climate—and the vitriol Matthews and Castor regularly hurl at each other—could move to a statewide stage, with both Commissioners interested in the party’s nomination for Lieutenant Governor.

Neither is aggressively pursuing the position, but both have made their interest known. For Matthews, it would be a second trip on the campaign trail; he was Lynn Swann’s running mate on the ticket’s unsuccessful big to unseat Gov. Ed Rendell in 2006.

In an interview at his law office here, Castor said he had reached out to state GOP chairman Rob Gleason, but was doing little else, for now, to pursue the race.

“I would be interested in the post if the party leadership and the gubernatorial candidate thought I gave them the best chance to win,” Castor said. “If they don’t, then I’m not interested in the post.”

Both describe each other as politically unfit for the position, an argument that would almost surely intensify if they both hit the campaign trail.

“I would be stunned if anybody would trust Jim Mathtews again, and the Attorney General is much too astute to make such a mistake,” Castor said.

At the same time, each would present political challenges for any gubernatorial candidate whose ticket they joined. Matthews is now something of a pariah in GOP circles because of his alliance with Hoeffel. The fact that his brother, MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews, is seen as a face of liberalism on TV doesn’t help either. Those traits could serve a ticket well in the general election, but would surely make getting there difficult.

Castor, similarly, has his own baggage. Coming from the southeast, like Matthews his only real shot at the office would be paired with western Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, the state Attorney General and early GOP gubernatorial front-runner. But Castor and Corbett have feuded before over Corbett’s relationship with Republican National Committeeman Bob Asher, who heads up Corbett’s exploratory committee for governor. The rift was hardened, insiders say, when the state party chose Corbett over Castor as its nominee for Attorney General in 2004. And in the recent corruption trail of former state Senator Vince Fumo, Castor, testifying for the defense, effectively admitted to some of the same type of political usage of government resources for which Fumo was eventually convicted. Hoeffel seized on the testimony, and other Republicans have said they would make it a campaign issue if they ran against Castor.

Castor said he would welcome any opponent bringing it up as an issue.

“I told the truth at the Fumo trial,” he said. “We had a disgruntled employee with a motive to try and make everybody look bad, and bottom line is he was rabidly anxious to get involved in politics, and i was reluctant to let him get involved. When I saw the extent of how untrustworthy he was, I got rid of him.”

Nonetheless, Castor appears to have an early leg-up on building a relationship with Corbett. A political supporter of Corbett recently reached out to both Castor and Philadelphia City Councilman Frank Rizzo to talk about a run. It remains unclear if Matthews and Corbett have talked about it. Matthews did not return multiple messages seeking comment last week. Montgomery County GOP Chairman Bob Kerns also did not return messages.

A longtime Montgomery County Republican insider said it was unlikely that either Commissioner would run for the office because of their political liabilities.

“I don’t see either one of them getting into the race because I don’t think either one of them would succeed,” the party insider said.

Hoeffel, who for months has been content to sit back and let Matthews and Castor snipe at each other, took the same detached approach when asked what it would be like if their feud went to a bigger stage.

“It would be pretty interesting,” he said. “I have no idea how that would play out.”

April 21, 2009 at 2:36 pm

--Dan Hirschhorn

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