Sunday, August 19, 2007

South Lake's Political Landscape: Are we Democrat, Republican, or in the Midst of a Change?

The 2008 election season is here, and it started about four months ago. Turn on a cable news channel any weeknight, and you are sure to see talking heads speculating if Barack Obama is "black enough" to be the Democratic candidate in 2008, or if Rudy Guliani can ever attract the Republican base with this moderate/liberal leanings on social issues.

Fortunately for us and our local public servants, the spotlight for regional races shouldn't begin shining until the summer of 2008. Heavy primary campaigning for the District 33b House seat didn't begin last year until the August timeframe, just a couple months after Barb Sykora announced her retirement. So we have a good year before we will see much action locally.

An interesting "offseason" activity (if you are a political buff) is to look at local election trends and try to understand any changing dynamics that exist. When looking at local election returns over the past 10 years, one thing jumps out: South Lake tends to not vote as Red as it used to.

As recently as eight years ago, the Republican State Senate candidate was winning with 73% of the vote, and the Republican House candidate was unopposed. In 2006, however, the Republican District 33 Senate candidate won with "just" 59%, and the Repub House candidate won with an uncomfortable 55% margin. Perhaps 2006 was an anomaly of a year, the lowest possible point for Republicans as they saw many seats turnover at the federal and state levels. Maybe the Democrats fielded exceptional candidates in the 2006 local races. Regardless, the area Republicans have to be asking themselves if the margins they saw in 2006 are as low as they can go, or if there are more moderate independents out there who could tip the scales to the other side given a "perfect storm".

The past three elections on the Senate side have seen Gen Olson win handily, but with decreasing margins. In 1998, 2002, and 2006, her respective margins were 73%, 65%, and 59%. Not a good trend for an office in which you would expect the election margins get more secure over time. On the District 33B house side, the recent history has seen Barb Sykora unopposed in 2000 and 2002, then win with 62% of the vote in 2004, and her successor John Berns win with 55% percent of the vote in 2006. What is interesting here isn't the smallish 55% share that Berns received in 2006 (after all, he was a relative unknown running in a wide-open race), but that the district went from being perennially uncontested to being within fathomable Democratic striking distance in such a short period of time.

One has to think that a strong Democratic candidate, coupled with another Republican bloodbath in 2008, could create some uncertainty for this and other seats that have been viewed as Republican safe seats for quite some time.

The next post later this week will focus on the micro trends: In which precincts is the political tide changing the most?

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