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GOP, Dems brace for storm of new voters, local races

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MEGAN GRAY

and JOEY DAUBEN

The Ellis County Press

WAXAHACHIE – The local political forecast calls for a massive hurricane to make landfall by Nov. 4, and both the Republican and Democratic parties are scrambling to brace for him.

In what has been billed as the most historic election in this nation’s history, local political leaders and the Ellis County Elections Department are preparing their ground forces to ensure either a John McCain/Sarah Palin (the Republican ticket) victory, or a Barack Obama/Joe Biden (the Democratic ticket) upset.

"The Obama candidacy has brought in lots of enthusiasm and volunteers for us," said Democratic Party chairman Larry Wilson.

That enthusiasm could have a trickle-down effect in one of two – or both – county commissioner races up for re-election this year. Democrat Broderick Sargent, a former Waxahachie councilman who ran for the Precinct 1 seat as a Republican in 2004, faces incumbent Republican Dennis Robinson, who hopes to win a second four-year term.

The race for the so-called minority Precinct 1 is the most watched race this year due to both Sargent and Obama being black, which Ellis County Republicans heard earlier this year, could make a impact on Nov. 4.

Precinct 3, which has historically been home to only one-term commissioners, features incumbent Republican Heath Sims and Democrat Jim Schico.

The lines for Precinct 3 incorporate much of Midlothian, a heavy GOP battleground. Precinct 1 was the only commissioners’ court district designed and drawn to elect a minority candidate, and Democrats this year think they’ll be able to capture it. Robinson crushed his 2004 Democratic nominee, Victor Burnett, by a 2-to-1 margin.

"We have been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm that the McCain/Palin ticket has brought to the local races," said GOP chair Nelson Baird, who won a three-way primary for the top spot in March. "We have [canvassed literature and] signs for our local races and hope to have more in the near future."

Since the presidential nominees have taken the country by storm with Obama and Palin’s rock-star status, the parties have also been eyeing the voter registration numbers.

Ellis County Elections Department clerk Nancy Byers said workers are doing double the time to prepare for November’s election.

"We now have 12-hour days [because of the wave] including Saturday and Sunday," Byers said. "We all expect to be working ‘til the wee hours of Nov 5."

Byers said almost 4,000 new voters were added by last week’s voter registration deadline and election officials will need more than 500 poll workers to handle the torrent of new votes.

In fact, it was the prediction of "voters out of nowhere" by the Republican National Committee’s Shannon Reeves in February – who also coined the phrase "Hurricane Obama" – that prompted local Republicans to prepare.

Reeves, who is black and lives in Southlake, north of Fort Worth, said the ground troops with the local party must be prepared for the "hurricane" that Obama’s campaign will bring.

Obama lost Ellis County in the March 4 Democratic primary to archrival Hillary Rodham Clinton, who crushed him in a 54 percent to 44 percent landslide. In all, 12,950 voters cast Democratic ballots.

On the other side, the GOP saw a close race with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee squeaking a 47-vote victory over current nominee McCain. Both tied with 46 percent each. GOP votes in that primary numbered 13,353, keeping Ellis a "red" county.

Ellis County, home to every countywide seat in the GOP column, hasn’t been Democrat since the 80s, but both parties are bracing for what could be a shocker.

Though not interviewed for this story, the other presidential ticket on the ballot, Libertarian Bob Barr and Wayne Allyn Root, are also running.


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