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Democrats rule in Kitsap County
By 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, the presidential election was all but over.
But at a house above Eagle Harbor, a crowd of 60 still raised a cheer each time another state fell to Barack Obama. For the Democrats gathered at the home of Patrick and Jennifer Sheldon, election night was a long awaited moment of ecstasy.
“This is a great group,” Patrick said, surveying the crowd that filled his living room and spilled into the kitchen. “A lot of people who are here were at the original meeting at my house.”
The Sheldons began hosting meetings for Obama supporters in January, a month before the Washington caucuses and long before Obama installed a paid staff in the state.
From those early meetings, a volunteer movement sprang up. Organizing with the 23rd Legislative District Democrats, the group organized campaign fundraisers and sent shift after shift of volunteers through calling centers on Bainbridge and in Silverdale.
Even on election day, volunteers were canvassing and re-canvassing precincts.
On election night it was all coming together, as a massive turnout – nationally and in Kitsap County – was swinging races for Democrats.
“I see the enthusiasm that was generated here, which was unprecedented in Kitsap County, and it seems to be mirrored with everyone nationally,” Patrick said.
More than 55 percent of Kitsap County voters picked Obama, with 22,500 Kitsap County votes left to be counted Friday. McCain trailed in the county with 42.51 percent. Four years before, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry had taken 51 percent of Kitsap’s votes.
More remarkably, the county that had given an edge to Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi in 2004, this year gave Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire a 3-percentage-point advantage.
As county results came in, Kitsap Democrats were in control of every race for a county position, and all but one of the legislative contests. Only south Kitsap Republican Jan Angel clung to a narrow lead to claim a seat in the 26th Legislative District.
While Obama’s campaign energized the consistently liberal base on Bainbridge, it brought out new voters to the party in south Kitsap County, said Mark Biggs, an Obama organizer from Bremerton.
In February, Democrats overflowed Bremerton caucus locations Biggs said. And with the slumping economy hitting south Kitsap especially hard, more have joined the movement since.
“It was overwhelming,” Biggs said at Sheldon’s home Tuesday. “There were Democrats the party didn’t even know existed.”
As the Sheldon party blazed on Bainbridge, several hundred of the county’s Democratic party faithful were gathered at a large banquet room in the Silverdale Beach Hotel. About 300 attended the event.
Obama’s victory was announced shortly after 8 p.m., followed by a string of local race results. Democrats met the news jubilantly. In the crowd, strangers were hugged and a few tears were shed.
State Sen. Phil Rockefeller of Bainbridge noted that Obama’s successful run for the presidency seemed to have lent energy to state and local campaigns.
“We all benefited from Obama,” Rockefeller said.
A blue night
A few miles south at a Bremerton sports bar, Kitsap Republicans watched as election results went from bad to worse.
The meeting started minutes after Ohio – one of the “must win” races for Sen. John McCain – was called for Obama.
The news set a wary tone for the roughly 125 Republicans who attended the gathering. By the time Fox News headlines announced Obama as the presidential victor, the scale of the local Republican defeat was also apparent.
“The news on the television is bad, the news in the county is equally bad,” said Jack Hamilton, chair of the Kitsap County Republican Party. “Factoring the totals, it’s about a 37 or 38 percent turnout for Republicans,” Hamilton said. “Thus far the only candidate we have who is winning an election is Jan Angel, and that is by a squeeze.”
The trouncing on the local level came as a surprise to some, but many felt that the economy and dissatisfaction with the national Republican party contributed to the loss.
“Even though it has nothing to do with my race, if you are wearing an ‘R’ this year you are paying for the sins of George Bush, period,” said John Clark, the Republican challenger for the Kitsap County Auditor position. “When I look at my race, It’s not about the ‘D’ next to my opponents name it’s about the ‘R’ next to mine. It’s trickle-down politics.”
“In this particular election all bets were off on what was going to happen,” Hamilton said. “Obviously there were some significant coat-tails here, how many here were we won’t know until later. It’s not because the candidates did anything wrong. We have yet to convince people in this county that electing Democrats is not a good idea.”
According to Bainbridge Republican Scott Manson, the only islander present at the event, the defeat rested primarily on the poor timing of economic slump in the lead up to the election.
“Nationwide, we have a bad economy and no matter who is in power, they get blamed for it,” he said. “That made it a tough for Republicans”
After the results were announced, party members began to trickle out of the building congratulating the candidates who had attended the gathering with friends and family. Others hunkered around computer screens, eagerly hoping for some good news in the Governor’s race. Hamilton spoke of the bright side of this election and the aggressive campaigns that the Republicans would mount to challenge Democratic hegemony in 2010.
“The turnout was phenomenal. No matter what else happened we got the voters in Kitsap interested enough to send in a ballot, that is a victory,” he said. “The next victory is to get them to understand the message and vote for us.”
“Tomorrow morning we start again and two years from now we’ll be here again and we will win.”
Democrats gathered at the Sheldons’ home wouldn’t have to wait long for their victory Tuesday.
As Obama’s march across the country continued, network cameras cut to scenes in Chicago, where throngs were gathering to hear a historic victory speech. On Bainbridge, a smaller crowd was celebrating its part in the movement.
“It sounds pretentious to say,” Biggs said, gesturing at the TV screen, “but it is really about changing the world.”
Review editor Dennis Anstine contributed to this report.