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A little party-hopping in the Panhandle

Republicans have out-registered Democrats in Okaloosa County, making it the first Panhandle county in Florida to shift from Democratic domination.

Republicans in Okaloosa County now outnumber the Democrats by six, according to Van Poole, state GOP chairman. Registration totals indicate the county has 30,588 Republicans and 30,582 Democrats.

The rest of North Florida remains solidly Democratic, but the shift in Okaloosa is likely to bolster the plans of the county's only state senator, Vince Bruner, D-Fort Walton Beach, to switch parties this year.

Bruner has often sided with Republicans in a Senate where the Democrats hold a four-vote majority and has said he will formally switch parties before the 1992 elections.

Across the rest of North Florida, Democrats continue to dominate by more than two to one, but many of those Democrats vote Republican in national elections.

Registration in Okaloosa County has been swinging increasingly toward the Republican Party, apparently because of the large number of military officers assigned to nearby Eglin Air Force Base.

Republicans don't outnumber Democrats in any other county north of Seminole County, where the Republican "horseshoe" begins. Republicans dominate in Brevard, Lake, Pinellas, Manatee, Indian River, Orange, Collier, Martin, Charlotte, Sarasota and Lee counties.

Over the past decade, Republican registration has increased substantially in the Pensacola area near Okaloosa County and in the Jacksonville area, but Democrats in both areas still outnumber Republicans.

Republican registration also has increased in Pasco, Hernando, Hillsborough, Volusia and other counties that border the horseshoe-shaped area that drops from Central Florida toward Palm Beach and Lee counties.

Poole described the news in Okaloosa County as a serious blow to the traditional base of Florida's Democratic Party, but Democrats suggest that it is an anomaly caused by the presence of so many military officers, who traditionally register and vote Republican.

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