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The elephant in the county – the rise of the GOP in Tallapoosa County

Published 8:48pm Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The 1972 presidential election was the last time Democrats carried the state of Alabama, and the state has been well known for voting Republican on the national level for decades.

But on the local level, ballots cast and party affiliation are a more complex issue. Democrats are normally able to hold their own locally, but a recent voting trend is seeing Tallapoosa County begin to match the hue of Alabama on the national level.

The June 3 state primary elections saw 7,292 Tallapoosa County voters file ballots as Republicans and only 593 file as Democrats, an overwhelming margin that’s a tad misleading when you consider that there were only two democratic races on the ballot both for state elections and none for Tallapoosa County.

But those numbers do not completely overshadow the trend that more Tallapoosa County voters are filing ballots as Republicans with each passing primary election.

In the June 1, 2004 primary, 4,813 voters in Tallapoosa County filed ballots as Democrats, with 1,408 casting ballots as Republicans.

For the June 6, 2006 primary, there was a closer margin of 4,737 casting ballots as Democrats and 4,352 as Republicans.

Democratic ballots overshadowed Republicans again in the June 3, 2008 primary by a 3,899 to 1,097 margin.

But in the June 1, 2010 primary, a clear change can be seen, with 5,466 voters casting ballots as Republicans and 2,321 casted ballots as Democrats, and in the March 13, 2012 primary voters casted 5,825 Republican ballots and 3,290 Democratic ballots.

Denise Bates, chairman of the Tallapoosa County Republican Party, said the trend reflects the county falling more along the lines of the state on a national level.

“With respect to the trend, it’s been building for years. Tallapoosa County been voting heavily Republican at the national and state level for some time now. We’re starting to get those votes now at the county level,” Bates said. “It’s a general trend now in Alabama that we’re now a part of, and that’s just Alabama becoming more Republican.”

Randy Haynes, chairman of the Tallapoosa County Democratic Party, said the trend of county voters moving more toward Republicans in local races can partially be attributed to dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party on the national level.

“Obviously, the trend is not positive from a Democratic Party perspective. I believe people vote where the action is – if the race is about the best-qualified person, Democratic candidates tend to do well and are certainly competitive,” Haynes said. “If the race is about the national image of each party, Southern Democrats are looking at a lot of futility.”

As was the case with the 2014 primary election, lack of Democrats on the ballot can directly affect the number of voters casting ballots for the party, but that in and of it self can reflect a trend of Democrats not joining in the race due to the unlikelihood of victory in the November general election against a Republican opponent.

But the same can also be said on the Democratic side with county commissioners T.C. Coley and Emma Jean Thweatt both running unopposed in November.

In some instances, candidates have to adapt to the climate with some switching parties for any number of reasons.

“Party switching happens all the time. You’ve had Republicans switching to the Democrats side before and now you’re having some Democrats switching to the Republican Party,” Bates said. “It’s just a sign of which side is winning at the time, as well as some changing philosophical beliefs of the parties. It’s a combination of both of those.”

And just like candidates, voters often adapt in the same way.

“There was a person that I saw in Dadeville this week who told me he voted in the Republican Primary for the first time in his life, but he said he wanted to vote for Jimmy Abbett,” Haynes said. “I think that makes both of the points – individuals switching parties and the trend of people filing more Republican ballots.”

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