Newly elected county commissioners pulled together to win

Published: Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 10, 2012 at 9:36 p.m.

Cooperation reigned as the primary campaign strategy for local Democrats, and it paid off as Alachua County voters swung in favor of President Barack Obama and elected a trio of progressive candidates to the County Commission.

The Alachua County Democratic Party and local Democratic campaigns combined their resources and volunteers to make a critical difference in the election, said Kyle Mitchell, campaign manager for Democrat Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson, who was elected to the commission Tuesday.

Hutchinson and his fellow Democratic County Commission candidates, current Commissioner Mike Byerly and state Rep. Charles S. “Chuck” Chestnut IV, pooled their campaign efforts and all won their races.

“There's never been a coordinated campaign like the one run by the County Commission candidates this year, and it paid off,” Mitchell said.

The County Commission candidates' campaigns operated out of the same office and split the cost of everything from mailers that promoted all three candidates to food for volunteers. Each brought his own support base into the mix, developing a diverse team of volunteers that reached out to voters countywide.

In 2014's gubernatorial election, which historically has lower voter turnout than presidential elections, Democrats will need to work even harder to get their voters to the polls, Mitchell said. Uniting Democrats' local primary winners like this year should be a vital part of that plan, he said.

Obama's re-election campaign was also a boon for county Democratic campaigns, said Jon Reiskind, chairman of the Alachua County Democratic Party.

“In this county, President Obama has coattails,” he said.

The party worked closely with the local Obama campaign, allowing it to take advantage of those coattails.

This election appears to be the Florida Democratic Party's best performance in the last 30 years, Chairman Rod Smith said. The state Democratic Party won local races in areas where it hasn't done well in the past.

“If you're going to rebuild the party, you have to start with local success,” he said. “You have to have a political farm team.”

If it can maintain its support base among young and minority voters, the state Democratic Party will continue to do well, Smith said.

Although Democrats wrangled the presidential vote and commission races from Republicans in Alachua County, the GOP secured some wins in the area.

Stafford Jones, chairman of the Alachua County Republican Party, cited Ted Yoho's U.S. House win and state Sen. Keith Perry's re-election as key successes.

Although about 47,000 voters are now registered Republicans in the county, Democrats still outnumber them significantly at more than 80,000.

“We always had wonderful hopes for our candidates, but we always know the reality of the demographics, too,” Jones said of Republicans' triple-loss on the County Commission. “So we weren't wringing our hands or crying in our beer the other night.”

The local GOP will focus on identifying right-leaning eligible voters who aren't registered as Republicans and will take advantage of the 2014 mid-term election, when Republican turnout traditionally outpaces that of Democrats, Jones said.

Although the Republican Party failed to wrest the presidency from Obama, Jones doesn't think the GOP needs to revise its values. Instead, he said it must improve its ability to connect with different demographics.

The GOP needs to show voters that it isn't just a bunch of rich white people, Jones said.

Overall, nothing really changed from 2008 to 2012 despite the millions upon millions of dollars spent on this election. Obama will remain president, and Republicans will rule the U.S. House of Representatives while Democrats will control the U.S. Senate.

Jones thinks the American public is telling elected officials to get back to work, stop the gridlock and fix the country's problems.

“The American public is probably wondering, ‘How many times do we have to turn around and keep throwing people out?' ” he said. “ ‘This time, let's just send them all back in and tell them to work together.' ”

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