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Pasco party leaders say Obama's popularity will help local Democrats in tight races

NEW PORT RICHEY — Democrats opened up a field office for Barack Obama's campaign Wednesday, the latest touch in their plans to chip away at Republican dominance in Pasco County.

The office on Grand Boulevard is supposed to do more than help Obama's chances. Local Democrats want to tap into its influence for races farther down on the ballot.

But for all their new enthusiasm, new resources and new promises, Democrats began the November election push with deficiencies: less money, fewer voters and a smaller party

The Pasco Republican Party has raised $154,000, almost five times the Democrats. There are 7,500 more Republican voters. Republican candidate have enjoyed a 7-to-1 fundraising advantage.

And if turnout in Tuesday's primary was poor, it was really poor for Democrats. About 12 percent voted — compared to 18 percent of GOP voters — despite strong turnout being a calling card for the Democratic Party and Obama this year.

Adding to the difficulty, losing Democrat Jeff Deremer endorsed Republican Sheriff Bob White on Wednesday instead of the party's nominee, Kim Bogart. Deremer called Bogart a "pure politician."

"As the campaign went on, I almost think I learned some things from him," Deremer said of White. "I just felt like he was being truthful with the public."

Pasco Democrats are trying to unseat Republicans in two County Commission races, as well as contests for sheriff, school superintendent and supervisor of election. State Democrats have invested heavily in a state Senate race with Pasco at its heart.

But the Democrats' opportunities are ripe to win two races, said County Commissioner Michael Cox, a former chairman of the Pasco Democrats.

One is Bogart's bid to unseat White, who had the smallest margin of victory of any Republican in the primary, Cox said.

The other is in northwest Pasco's District 5 commission race between Commissioner Jack Mariano and Democrat Ginny Miller, a former New Port Richey City Council member. Voters countywide pick commissioners, but District 5 is the only one that's home to more Democrats than Republicans.

Bogart said he thinks fundraising will be an easier task heading into November, and he expects more party support.

"Everything from helping walk neighborhoods to stuffing mailers, (and) I feel confident that there will be some financial contributions open up as well," Bogart said.

The case for other Democrats is cloudier. For example, Democrat Fred Taylor has yet to win over Cox in Taylor's bid to replace state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

"The reality is that Fasano is doing a good job from the standpoint of issues that affect the community — that's what it comes down to," Cox said.

Pasco Democratic Party chairwoman Alison Morano described a rosier scenario. She said the county party left it up to candidates to push voters. Plus, there were fewer Democratic primaries and no major national or state contests.

"You cannot discount Obama's ability to turn out. We're sitting here in Denver because he's turned them out," said Morano, a delegate at the national convention in Denver.

To be sure, Republicans are recovering from a divisive primary.

County Republican chairman Bill Bunting acknowledged the Mariano-Miller race will be tough. Another race tops his priority list: school superintendent, in which Republican incumbent Heather Fiorentino has raised less money than Democrat Stephen Donaldson.

But Bunting said White, known as the county's biggest fund-raiser, should be fine.

While he discounts the effects Democrats could have, Bunting said he will begin working to unify the local party after next week's national convention.

"We have to be concerned," said Bunting, who staved off his own bitter leadership fight. "We have to have a united party."

Times staff writer Molly Moorhead contributed to this report. David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6232.

Pasco party leaders say Obama's popularity will help local Democrats in tight races 08/27/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 2, 2008 2:00pm]
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