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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Voter registrations in Florida show 'huge swing' toward Democrats

GOP is way behind in Florida registrations An escalating number of voters registering as Democrats is providing evidence that the 2008 election could produce a wave of support for Barack Obama — and trigger a decades-long shift of party allegiance that could affect elections for a generation.

The numbers are ominous for Republicans: Through May, Democratic voter registration in Broward County was up 6.7 percent. Republican registrations grew just 3 percent while independents rose 2.8 percent.

Democrats have posted even greater gains statewide, up 106,508 voters from January through May, compared with 16,686 for the Republicans.

"It's a huge swing," says Marian Johnson, political director for the Florida Chamber of Commerce. "I looked at that and said, 'Wow.'"

Democrats said Friday it's proof of what they have been seeing for months.

"Who would want to join a failed party? And that's what the Republican Party is today, a failed party," said U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D- Delray Beach, co-chairman of Obama's Florida campaign.

Broward Democratic Chairman Mitch Ceasar credits President Bush for increasing Democratic numbers. "The Democratic brand has cycled back."

The registration numbers could provide a jolt to Republicans and invigorate their efforts.

State Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R- Fort Lauderdale, was blunt: Republicans need to do a better job.

The registration numbers "got my attention; I'll be calling our party chairman this afternoon," she said.

Nicol C. Rae, a political science professor at Florida International University, cautioned against reading too much into the voter registration trends before the vice presidential nominees have been chosen, before the parties have their conventions and before people begin to sharpen their focus after Labor Day.

"It's still a fluid race in a lot of ways," he said.

Acknowledging it's a "tough climate," Cindy Guerra said John McCain supporters shouldn't despair.

"At the end of the day people will wake up and say, 'Gosh, you know what? I would not have open-heart surgery with an intern at a hospital. I would really want that doctor who's been there and has the experience,'" said Guerra, vice chairwoman of the Broward Republican Party.

Still, the long-term implications are potentially significant.

In the 1980s, charismatic and popular President Reagan helped bring a generation of voters into the Republican Party, where they stayed for years, affecting the balance of power in Congress and in state governments.

Wexler sees Obama repeating the same thing today with first-time voters such as Jonathan Caprio — who registered to vote Friday at Southwest Regional Library in Pembroke Pines — joining the Democratic Party.

"I'm excited to vote for whoever is running for the Democrats," he said. "I don't have much of a choice. I don't really like the other party."

Michael Martinez, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida, said there aren't many people shifting from the Republicans to the Democrats. But the allegiance of first-time voters is significant.

"New voters tend to identify with the hot party at the time. In the 1980s, a lot of new voters were identifying with Reagan, because he was sort of the hot commodity," Martinez said.

Staff Writer Kevin Clark and Aaron Deslatte of the Tallahassee Bureau contributed to this report.

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