By an overwhelming margin, Chester County Democrats lined up behind one of their own yesterday in the four-way contest for the Democratic nomination in the Sixth Congressional District.
Robert Roggio, a retired Charlestown Township businessman, garnered 88 of the 111 votes to win the county Democratic Committee's endorsement in what is traditionally a hotly contested race.
The Democratic organizations in Montgomery and Berks Counties will decide later who, if anyone, to endorse.
The winner of the April 22 primary will face Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, who is seeking a fourth term. In 2006, he defeated Democrat Lois Murphy with 50.7 percent of the vote.
"Gerlach is susceptible this year," Roggio said. "The Republicans are a mess, and that will work in our favor."
Gerlach's campaign could not be reached for comment.
Coming in a distant second yesterday, with 19 votes, was Haverford developer Mike Leibowitz. Former State Sen. Bob Rovner, a lawyer from Lower Merion, and business executive Richie Phillips Jr. received two votes apiece.
"Bob Roggio had a lot of longtime personal friends in that room, and I'm happy for him that he won there," Leibowitz said, "but I think I'm the best candidate to win across the district and the best to go against Jim Gerlach."
Rovner said he was not seeking the endorsement, and Phillips did not address the convention, making him ineligible for the endorsement, party chairwoman Michele Vaughn said.
Montgomery County Democrats are expected to endorse a candidate Feb. 21. The Berks County Democratic Committee traditionally does not endorse, preferring open primaries, chairman Tom Herman said.
Although this is his first run for office, Roggio, 60, is politically experienced. He was Philadelphia volunteer coordinator for U.S. Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004, suburban Philadelphia coordinator for U.S. Sen. Bob Casey's campaign, and, until recently, Casey's field representative in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
He said he had made more than 200 phone calls to committee people last week to line up votes.
"I think it went well, but I'm not resting on this endorsement," Roggio said. "I expect to work hard in Montgomery and Berks as well."
East Whiteland Township Supervisor Bill Holmes said he believed Roggio would emerge as the strongest candidate in the primary.
"He will have the support of the Chester County party as well as the other congressional candidates," Holmes said.
Dan Wofford, who ran against Gerlach in 2002, said he believed that the political analysts who predicted an easy win for Gerlach would be proved wrong.
"I think this seat will still be in play," Wofford said. "The winds for change are so strong."