Democrats push to make county blue

Buoyed by a strong voter registration drive in the May primary, Democrats hope Jackson County will turn blue by November even as Republi-cans strive to keep it red.

Republi-cans held a more than 10,000-vote advantage during November 2004. But a surge of voter registration during the 2008 primary brought Democrats within 3,000 votes of Republicans, and intensified efforts to register more voters could close that gap.

"That's our goal," said Jan Waitt, in charge of the Democrats' so-called Blue Crew. "We're trying to turn Jackson County blue."

There are 42,389 Democrats to 45,404 Republicans in the county, representing a decline of 761 registered voters for the Grand Old Party since May.

Waitt said that a strong slate of candidates in the local election should help generate more interest in joining the Democratic Party.

Democrats have been locally campaigning for Sen. Barack Obama, their presump-tive candidate for president. Republi-cans are trying to organize a local campaign for their presump-tive candidate, Sen. John McCain.

Paulie Brading, chair-woman of the Jackson County Democratic Party, believes Democrats will show a greater boost in numbers once all the new registration cards are processed from the canvassing efforts by the Obama campaign's organizers in the past six weeks.

Of the 700 new voters registered, 40 percent were Democrats, 20 percent were Republicans and 40 percent were independents and third parties, she said.

Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker said she has about three to four weeks of voter registration cards to verify that aren't included in the latest figures.

She expects to have 125,000 registered voters by the November election compared to the 114,258 registered now.

Brading said several other counties in the state have shifted from red to blue this year, and she expects large numbers of independents to vote for Obama as voters look for a change.

The state's swing to blue means there is about a 200,000-voter advantage for the Democrats versus a more than 50,000-voter lead a few years ago.

Bryan Platt, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Central Committee, said he sees signs that the Obama momentum is slowing and he doubts Democrats will turn the county blue.

"My heart says, no it can't happen," he said. "If it's going to happen, it's going to take a long time."

He said some Republicans have turned away from their party to become independents. "Because of the unpopularity of President Bush, they don't want to be pigeonholed with him," he said.

As the campaign draws closer to election time, Platt predicts the majority of voters will find themselves more in agreement with McCain's philosophies, even though he doesn't espouse all the traditional conservative values that many Republicans support.

"John McCain is a lot like President Bush — he knows what he believes and he stands for it no matter what the polls say," said Platt.

Republicans locally have voiced frustration that there isn't more effort going into a local McCain campaign, but Platt said it can sometimes backfire if supporters go out too early to get out the vote. By the time the last two months of the race come around, they've run out of steam, he said.

State Sen. Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point, was named honorary co-chairman in Oregon for the McCain campaign, and he expects to see more momentum for his party's presumptive nominee generated within about two weeks.

"I think there will be excitement," he said.

The new Republican headquarters should be open in Medford sometime in August, and McCain's choice of a vice president should pump up the enthusiasm for his campaign, Atkinson predicted.

He said the McCain campaign has taken longer to get rolling because of changes in the state's political demographics recently. But Atkinson said he thinks Jackson County, Southern Oregon and much of Eastern Oregon are in play for McCain.

Atkinson said his role as honorary co-chairman will be to develop grassroots momentum for both McCain and other Republican candidates in Oregon such as Sen. Gordon Smith.

Atkinson said Republicans aren't disappointed with the direction their party has headed recently.

"I don't think it's disenchantment," said Atkinson. "We're in a rebuilding mode."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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