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Bainbridge Democrats first out of the gate

But GOP faithful aren’t far behind, as campaigns open offices on the island.

Democrats opened a Bainbridge campaign office Monday hoping to reap votes and volunteers on soil rich with party support.

“Bainbridge has a high number of registered voters and a high Democrat turnout at the polls,” said Tom Kilbane, chair of the 23rd Legislative District Democrats. “Lots of folks volunteer for us on Bainbridge, so it’s better to have an office where the volunteer base is.”

District Democrats established a regular eight-hour shift schedule for the Winslow Mall office. Volunteers are now campaigning six days a week, working to boost State Rep. Phil Rockefeller’s run for the State Senate and ensure that Rockefeller’s House seat passes to former Poulsbo City Councilor Sherry Appleton.

Other key efforts include North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen’s re-election campaign and Sen. John Kerry’s bid for the presidency.

Democrats expect the presidential election will galvanize their base, increasing party turnout and participation in other strongly contested elections this year.

“The state is pretty well split in the Senate and House,” Kilbane said. “Both parties are going to work hard for control of the legislature. The presidential election always brings out more voters, so it behooves all local candidates to make sure people vote in their races, too.”

The Democrats aren’t the only party aware of Bainbridge Island’s important role in county politics and its high voter-turnout rate. Republicans say they’ll announce the location of their own Winslow campaign office soon.

“There’s a lot more Republicans in Bainbridge than you might think,” said Shirley Brown, county chairwoman of the Republican Party.

Kitsap County Republicans operate out of Bremerton, but party members hope to strengthen their base in contentious North Kitsap races.

Jim Olsen, a Bainbridge resident and party campaign coordinator, describes the yet-undisclosed Winslow office location as a “fabulous” base for Republican campaigns at all levels.

Republican realtor Frank Mahaffay and Paulette DeGard are vying for the party’s primary nomination to face Appleton in the district’s Position 1 House seat.

Attorney Matt Cleverley and contractor Scott Henden hope to displace Endresen in the county commission. Realtor Doug Kitchens is squaring off against Rockefeller for a Senate seat.

Key island

While Democrats have a county office in Silverdale, the party sees Bainbridge as key for state and county elections.

Jim Sharpe, the state committee man for 23rd District Democrats, estimates that 60 percent of Bainbridge voters are strong party supporters, compared to an even split in the rest of Kitsap County.

Bainbridge also tends to have a higher voter turnout. Almost 84 percent of the island’s registered voters cast a ballot in the 2000 presidential race. The county-wide turnout rate for the 2000 election was about 7 percent lower, according to the Kitsap County Auditor’s office.

Bainbridge-area Democrats also tend to volunteer in high numbers, Kilbane said. Democrats have gathered the support of over 100 volunteers to staff the three-room office and help out in various campaigns.

Volunteers use the office as a meeting place for up to 40 people, a call center with five phones and a research resource aided by four computers. Candidates have also supplied the office with yard signs, campaign literature and voter registration information.

The new office is an improvement on the party’s last campaign HQ, which was tucked behind the Marge Williams Center, Kilbane said. Restaurants and shops surround the new office, attracting a steady stream of foot traffic.

Endresen said the office’s new location could boost interest in the party and her campaign.

“It’s more central and visible to people who might want to stop by and pick up information,” she said.

The office sparked interest before its official opening. Many mall shoppers wandered in as volunteers readied the office in early July.

“It’s amazing how many people walked in, asked what we were doing and ended up registering to vote and volunteering to help,” Kilbane said.

The Bainbridge office is a big help to the party’s county headquarters, Sharpe said. Bainbridge-based efforts help the Silverdale office avoid long-distance phone charges when calling voters. The office also links island residents to county issues.

“Bainbridge tends to be tied to Seattle more than other parts of the county,” Sharpe said. “It’s important to have a presence in Bainbridge so they don’t forget the county commissioner election on their ballot.”

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The 23rd Legislative District Democrats campaign office is at 278 Winslow Way, Suite 23. The office is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call 842-0589.

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