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In Flagler County, a Reflection of Democrats’ Lost Promise as GOP Regains Registration Lead

| April 6, 2012

For Flagler Democrats, who have been sitting still, the elephants aren't in the rearview mirror anymore.

Bob Updegrave was almost giddy when he stood up to make an announcement to the audience assembled at Wednesday’s Flagler County Republican Club. He had reason to be: Republicans are once again in the lead, in registered voters in Florida, ending the 41-month streak when Democrats had taken the lead.

“We have a pile of enthusiastic volunteers,” Updegrave said, “we’re just having a great time and really stirring the pot in this county.”

Republicans had the lead for most of the last decade in Flagler until the Obama effect began to ripple locally, as 2008 yielded a surge in Democratic registrants nationwide. Democrats took the lead in Flagler in July 2008 and for two years were ahead by about 1,000 voters. By December last year, their lead was gone, down to just 50, and by the end of January this year, the lead had switched, with Republicans taking a 67-voter lead. In March, Republicans ended with a lead of 524, a quite extraordinary rapid pace of growth for just two months. (See the complete numbers in the chart below.)

Flagler Exception or Bellwether?

The lead is the more remarkable in Flagler County because it’s not reflected statewide, where Democrats still maintain most of the lead they built around the 2008 election. That lead grew to 700,000 voters that year. As of February, while it has narrowed some, the Democratic lead was still a solid 451,000. Republicans haven’t gained as Democratic numbers have declined. Rather, independents and minor parties have, their 2.6 million registrants increasing by 120,000 since 2008.

Gail Wadsworth. (© FlaglerLive)

“There are multiple reasons,” Gail Wadsworth, the Flagler County clerk of court and the president of the Flagler County Republican Club, said today of the Republican growth spurt in Flagler. “I think the first reason was the presidential primary. I think some people were frustrated that Florida is not like the state they came from and that our primaries are closed, and they switched after the fact, from frustration, not being able to vote in the Republican presidential primary.” Wadsworth also cited the economy and local unemployment as a frustration driving more people to the GOP, presumably in hopes of a turn-around.

Dan Parham, president of the Flagler County Democratic Executive Committee, and Merrill Shapiro, who heads the Flagler County Democratic Club (for now), have their own analysis about the switch. (Merrill also chairs the FlaglerLive board of directors.)

“I got word that people were registering at the motor vehicle and were indicating they wanted to be democrat and then were getting calls from the national Republican Party,” Parham said, suggesting that they were being registered the wrong way, against their will—either by sheer error or by malice.

While errors occasionally happen, they can go either way. But it’s highly unlikely that a systematic attempt to deny Democrats their proper registration record is taking place, especially as Parham himself concedes that the party’s efforts have not been as sustained, and that other, more empirically visible trends, are tracking against Democrats. “One of the problem we have is we have a lot more people becoming independent, and it’s more likely for Democrats to become Independent,”  Parham said. “Democrats are more independent, they may look at things from both sides, and a lot of them are just—‘well, I want to be independent, I don’t want to be either party, I think they’re both messed up.’”

He’s right: while Republicans and Democrats have traded the lead in registrations since 2008, only independents and minor-party registrants have seen their numbers steadily increase, year after year, going back to 2003, when they formed just 19.8 percent of the electorate. As of March, they were up to 27.5 percent. In 2008, they were at 24.7 percent.

Dividends of Voter Suppression

Parham also notes the new difficulties of registering people, tying into Shapiro’s analysis of the obstacle Democrats face: the GOP-dominated Florida Legislature did away with the old way of broad registration drives, imposing steep fines on those who conduct registrations but fail to abide by extremely strict rules. The result has been a form of voter suppression, Shapiro said. “When Democrats were in office, we pulled some of the same tricks, but now that the Republicans are in the Legislature, they are suppressing Democratic voters,” he said. “There are such onerous penalties that if you mess up a voter registration drive, nobody wants to do it.”

Merrill Shapiro (© FlaglerLive)

Republicans are facing the same obstacles, but Republican voters tend to be wealthier, older and more educated, as opposed to Democrats who tend to be younger, or minorities, or less educated—people “who need to be taken by the hand and taken through the process of registering to vote,” Shapiro said. The state’s reversal against restoring ex-felons’ rights (after Gov. Charlie Crist had made the process much easier), is also hurting Democratic registrations, since ex-felons are disproportionately black, and blacks vote disproportionately Democratic.

Nevertheless Parham and Shapiro see more registration drives ahead, with the drafting of more volunteers and the development of door-to-door strategies. “In 2008 we didn’t turn it around until July. So if we haven’t done something by June, I’ll definitely be concerned, especially if we can get the president to come to Flagler County,” Parham said.

Dismal Democrats

It’s also helped Republicans that local Democrats’ candidates continue, for the most part, to be a lost cause: Democrats either field candidates with losing records (Doug Courtney is again running for a Florida House seat, virtually guaranteeing a Republican win; Jim Manfre, running for Sheriff, is 1 for 2, having lost his last two bids for the post after a successful first run) or with the sort of record opponents are attracted to like catnip: Incumbent Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks’ contentious years with the county commission has drawn out four Republican challengers so far.

The school board is an exception: Bill Corkran, a Democrat with a sturdy resume, is running against Republican Sue Dickinson in what promises to be a contentious race echoing with the recent, unpleasant haggles between the board and the Flagler County Educators Association, the local teachers union—of which Corkran is a past president. Colleen Conklin, an incumbent Democrat on the school board, has yet to announce, though Debbie Laury, a Reagan Assembly Republican, already has. (School board races are ostensibly non-partisan, but only candidates pretend to play that game by omitting the R or D from their campaign literature. No one else, least of all donors, plays along.)

Five of seven anounced Republican candidates for the newly created Congressional District 6 seat appeared at the Flagler County Republican Club Wednesday. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Other reasons clearly favor Republican growth, and can be seen merely through the energy and visibility of local Republican organizations, despite their infighting. Flagler not only has a Flagler County Republican Executive Committee and a Republican Club. It has an active tea party, and the nascent, increasingly active chapter of the Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies—essentially, an ideological first cousin of the tea party, but with endorsing power independent of other organizations. Flagler County’s tea party doesn’t endorse, at least not overtly, nor does it distribute money to candidates. And the Republican Club doesn’t endorse until it has the executive committee’s approval. Ronald Reagan assemblies work independently of all those organizations, and make money available.

While tea party meetings have been slightly more lugubrious lately because of a dip in attendance and excitement—the Romney effect isn’t helping locally, as Mitt Romney’s presidential bid fails to ignite the sort of excitement George W. Bush once did—a meeting of the Ronald Reagan assembly last Monday drew every announced candidate for the newly formed congressional district covering Flagler. And it drew a sizeable crowd of about 70, at least for such a young group (young since its establishment, not young in its membership’s age, which remains almost exclusively the Medicare and Social Security set). Members paraded with their “goodbye Obama” and “Stop Obama here” shirts, providing a rallying point that Democrats have lost: the excitement and novelty of 2008 have dissipated, and have yet to be replaced by anything as compelling as the promise of that Election Day evening at Chicago’s Grant Park, particularly when many Democrats feel that evening’s promise was not kept.

In Flagler County, at any rate, the voter registration numbers reflect the reaction.

Flagler County Voter Registration, 2003-2016

Minor Parties
Oct. 2003
March 2004
March 2005
March 2006
March 2007
March 2008
July 2008
March 2009
March 2010
March 2011
March 2012
Oct. 2012
Florida, May 2012
(Combined with NPAs)
March 2013
March 2014
March 2015
February 2016
Florida, January 2016
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22 Responses for “In Flagler County, a Reflection of Democrats’ Lost Promise as GOP Regains Registration Lead”

  1. B. Claire says:

    Thank goodness the Republicans are handing Democrats the Presidential election on a platter:

    * 20 points down – Hispanics: ‘show us your papers’, ‘self-deport yourselves’

    * 20 points down: Women: mandatory vaginal probes, ‘don’t have to watch’ ultrasounds, Rush Limbaugh crude, misogynistic, idiocy.

    * Republican Clown College Primary candidates/campaigns

    * Thurston Howell, III apparent last-standing & probable nominee

    Flagler Dems… perhaps see if there is anything we can do/volunteer that may help locally.
    Flagler Cnty Democrats –

    • Think first, act second says:

      B. Claire,
      You are taking a victory lap before the race is run. Consider this, you are putting the Black community, women and hispanics on the Dem side. Consider a Vice President candidate added to Romneys campaign of Condoleeza Rice. Now how many blacks will she attract, how many women would she attract, how many undecided Inds would she attract, how many Southerners, remember she is from Alabama would she attract. A former Secy of State who is well respected throughout the World by World leaders to whom she has never bowed.
      You might want to put the Silver Platter back in the cabinet for a few months.

  2. Outsider says:

    B. Claire, it must be nice to live in fantasy land. If the Republicans are indeed handing the Dems the presidential election, the President himself is handing it back. In case noone noticed, the wheels came off this administration a couple of years back. In spite of trillions of dollars in wasted spending, and dangerous, hocus pocus monetary policy, the economy has gone from grave to just critical condition. Obama’s large campaign donations are down by 50%. Young people have lost their enthusiasm; perhaps even they are realizing the styrofoam columns were actually a reflection of what he was capable of. And it seems Obama’s losing his mind over the real possibility of Obamacare being overturned. The numbers are so bad for him, it is extremely unlikely he will be re-elected. Where do you buy your rose colored glasses?

    • B. Claire says:

      @ Outsider

      Reality Land:

      Thurston Howell, III …

      1. With all the political charm of Lurch – even after 6 [S I X] years of campaigning – flip flopping like a sad little fish on a dock, shaking the Etch-a-Sketch daily…. [name your lie-your-pants-off metaphor here]

      2. Can NOT LOSE women & Hispanics [and the dog vote*] …and win

      3. Period.

      *Ask Seamus, … after Mitt made him take the family 12 hour road trip in a crate strapped to the roof of the family Rolls Royce Phantom stationwagon [ok, made up the RR part]

  3. palmcoaster says:

    @B Claire. Don’t forget all the Independents and Republicans that will for the current President.

  4. ric says:

    For this great country to servive we must take the leadership out of the hands of the present administration.. Four more years will destroy what’s left of it..

    • Yellowstone says:

      What is far more interesting is the low voter count that appears after every election. You may have 10-15% turnout of registered voters.

      In a hypothetical case: Suppose there were 100,000 residents, 60,000 registered, and only 15% of 60,000 turned out a vote. That’s like saying 15% of 100,000 are controlling things. THAT”S ONLY 15,000 PEOPLE.

      Now who is to say that one particular party makes a dedicated effort to get out their vote – then it’s their vote that wins all.

      If you guys think about it – you call sit back in disgust and abdicate your civic responsibilities. Me? I’ll educate myself and vote – and we will systematically control things for you! (Remember that great job you used to have?)

      I have a suggestion: Flagler is a laid back, largely rural, bedroom community that serves the adjoining the more cosmopolitan counties and the nation. Suppose the Supervisor of Elections Office put together a Mobile Voter Registration Program that travels from area of our county to the next. This would be a trend setter for the Nation.

      Once people are officially registered, it then become incumbent on each of us to know what is currently going on in our municipal and federal government – AND RESPONSIBILY VOTE!!

      May God bless this great country – please!

      • Sandy says:

        Registering voters is not the problem. The problem is getting those who are registered to vote. It’s disturbing to read all the friction within the Republican Clubs, and lack of leadership and support with in the Democrat clubs. With all the drama, it’s no wonder the voter turnout has been down. Problems seems to be isolated to Flagler County.

    • PCer says:

      The Dems will win. Good thing for you, since they tend to put more money in education.

  5. palmcoaster says:

    @ric.We will all find out after ballots will be counted. So please get out and vote.

  6. Yellowstone says:

    A correction . . . When I refered to 15% controlling the majority vote:

    What I wanted to emphasize is The 15% of registered voters turn for all parties. So what that works out to be is something like”

    15% total for all parties. Hypothetical example In a town that may have a population of 100,000 – there are about 60,000 (60%) registered voters for all parties.

    Nearly half are Republican (49%), nearly half are Democrats (48%), and the remaining (3%) are Independents or all others. Remember that is: 100% of the 60,000 registered voters.

    Now if 15% of 60,000 show up (9,000 people) – half can be Repubs (4,500) and half Dems (4,500). – adjust numbers for several Independents and of course the numbers are skewed one way or the other

    These numbers are somewhat typical in large cities and even more so here in Flagler County.

    This should anger you – but instead we have became apathetic.

    This means that less than 4,500 people in a town of 100,000 can control your destiny; your taxes, jobs, healthcare, education, and your future.

    So by all means – REGISTER and remember to VOTE!

    • Think first, act second says:

      Not contradicting your figures or statements, which I think are correct about the need to vote. But, your figures are a little off and I think it will surprise you. This is from SOE site as of 3/31/12, Registered voters
      Dems 23990 or 35.8% of registered population
      Reps 24514 or 36.6%
      Inds 15827 or 23.6% Many more than you thought
      Minor parties, unexplained on her site 2628 or 3.9%
      As of 3/31/ 66,959 total registered broken down as shown, so difference between D and R is not that great but you can see why it is constantly said that the Inds will decide the election. D and R will cancel out each other, if equal numbers vote, and the Inds will decide who are far greater than the 3% you spoke of.

  7. NortonSmitty says:

    Don’t ever underestimate the motivation possible by the “Nigger in the Woodpile” Republican dog whistle.

  8. palmcoaster says:

    Sorry Norton by I didn’t get it! Can you clarify?

  9. Outsider says:

    That’s right Norton…..being a Republican I would love to blow that whistle, but I can’t seem to pry it out of old dead Sen. Robert (former KKK leader) Byrd’s, DEMOCRATIC hands.

  10. elaygee says:

    Maybe Willard will tie some poor people ontohis roof and drive them to the polls?

  11. B. Claire says:

    This statement wholly disqualifies the Former Secty of State, Ms. Rice:

    She is exactly where she should be now. Out of public office.

    Total FAIL as Secty of State.

    • Think first, act second says:

      I don’t see why her qualifications are of concern to you, you aren’t going to vote for her, you are obviously in the tank for a less than startling POTUS and Biden. If you would like me to chronicle Bidens less than startling moments let me know, they pervade the internet, but I don’t care I am not going to vote for either of these losers anyway.

  12. B. Claire says:

    @Think first

    In 2004, Rice’s popularity was credited with helping to save the presidency of George W. Bush. A CNN poll at the time revealed that 54% of Americans did not believe the president had done all that he could to prevent the 9/11 attacks. Then his National Security Advisor—the first black woman to serve in the role—appeared before the 9/11 Commission. After her testimony, the number of Americans that believed the president had not done enough dropped to 40%.

    • Think first, act second says:

      If what you say is true, why then are you attacking her in your first post where you say the statement wholly disqualifies her. Did she tell the truth or perjure herself? She never bowed to any King of an arabic country, like one prominent in Am. politics has and is credited as being “U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice has sometimes been described as the most influential woman in global politics.” Amply qualifed for VP, if Biden can be VP. Check out his gaffes at this site and tell me he is more qualifed. “Biden Tells 14 Lies During VP Debate.”

  13. Liana G says:

    Obama is not going to get the Hispanic votes. While he may be vocally trying to woo this demographic, he has deported more Hispanics in his first/seond year in office than GW did in his entire 8 years. While this is good for reducing high unemployment – which it has done and not due to any type of “real job creation”, those jobs are still overseas – it has pushed many into the underground economy, driving down normal wages even more through worker exploitation.

    Both dems and republicians are responsible for the state of the economy. The banking, insurance, and education industries are democratic controlled institutions (corrupt Wall Street, runaway overpriced insurance, and out of control tuition costs – the next bubble) while manufacturing and similar types are republican institutions.

    Accoridng to those who know what to look for, the worst is still to come because we also have the two most dumbest, selfish, and self destructive generations, boomers and genexers, controlling the country. The real damage is going to come when the older active folks (parents of the boomers) are no longerf with us. Seems like it would be in our best interest to keep these folks around for as long as we possibly can.

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