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Monday, October 27, 2008

Is Florida's Gulf Coast going Democratic?

BRADENTON, Fla. _ The times, they are a changin’.

So say local Democrats who point to a favorable surge in early voter turnout as proof that the political landscape here could be starting to shift. Through the first five days of early voting in Manatee, 6,979 voters cast a ballot: 46 percent were registered Democrats, 28 percent were Republican.

Election experts predict that a third of the electorate will already have voted by Nov. 4, up from 15 percent in 2000 and 20 percent in 2004, according to the Associated Press. In Florida, 40 percent of the electorate is expected to vote early.

Those are numbers that bode well for a Democratic Party that has worked hard to get out the early vote. Party leaders urged voters, particularly blacks, to cast ballots early in case there are any problems. Already, 1,100 black voters have cast a ballot in Manatee, another good sign for Democrats.

Presidential hopeful Barack Obama has made early voting a keystone of his campaign and urged voters to do just that during a campaign stop in Tampa on Monday.

Early turnout has also given local Democratic leaders hope that Obama could pull off a stunning upset and carry Manatee County, despite an overwhelming registration disadvantage.

"It’s as good a chance as anyone has had in years," said Manatee Democratic Chair C.J. Czaia. "We’ve been trying to build the party to create a viable second party in our community, and for the first time we feel like we’re achieving that."

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