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Democrats Top GOP in Voter Drive


Reversing a decades-long trend, Ventura County Democrats have gained ground on Republicans in party registration, and have even pulled slightly ahead in a hotly contested race to select the county's next member of Congress.

Republicans still lead Democrats, 41.7% to 38.8%, in overall registration, according to final numbers released Monday for the Nov. 7 general election.

A total of 387,075 people are registered to vote in the county.

Democrats registered 8,692 voters between the March primary and the close of registration for the November election, compared with 7,445 for the GOP.

Most of that gain for Democrats came between Labor Day and the Oct. 10 registration deadline, when the party added 5,564 new voters, compared with 3,575 for the Republicans.

Democratic Party leaders attribute the surge to an aggressive voter registration drive during the past eight months that targeted new citizens and traditionally underrepresented groups, such as poor people and minorities.

"We just hunkered down and tried to do the best we could," said Newbury Park resident Hank Lacayo, head of the Ventura County Democratic Central Committee. "Despite the fact that Republicans still have the overall lead, I believe these numbers show the changing complexion of Ventura County."

Lacayo and other Democratic leaders were especially buoyed by registration in the 23rd Congressional District, where Democrats outnumber Republicans for the first time since that district was redrawn in 1992.

There are now 126,477 Democrats in the district--which covers Carpinteria and all of Ventura County except the Thousand Oaks area--compared with 124,647 Republicans. GOP voters held a slight edge for the March primary.

Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), who has held the seat since 1986, said he's not worried about the slippage. He pointed to a campaign poll taken late last month that showed him with a 2-to-1 lead over Democratic challenger Michael Case among frequent voters.

And he added that in the March primary, in which voters could cast ballots for any candidate, he pulled in 64% to Case's 24%.

"You don't get 64% of the vote, with only 40% Republican registration, unless a good number of Democrats are voting for you," said Gallegly, noting that Republicans historically have higher voter turnout on election day.

"Our polling numbers show us stronger today than they did in March," he said. "I still feel we're pretty safe."

Case said he sees the 1,800-voter edge, and the Democrats' registration surge, as a larger indication that voters are responding to the party's message and platform.

"This registration is in line with voters in this district who want solutions to [problems] traditionally embraced by Democrats, not Republicans," he said. "The thing we need to do now is encourage voters to participate [at the polls] by making sure they understand where we are on the issues and what we intend to do if elected."

Ventura County election officials say the key now for both parties is to push voters to visit the polls next month.

And on that score, Ventura County Republican Central Committee leader Jackie Rodgers said her party has a decided advantage.

Rodgers said a GOP drive during the past year and a half has yielded 20,000 new voters. She said it's now time for the next phase of that campaign to kick in, which is getting voters to the ballot box.

"That effort is reflective of a unified party with one goal in mind, and that goal was to see a Republican sweep of Ventura County," Rodgers said.

"We're keeping up the pace, we're doing all the things necessary to see that people turn out to support our Republican candidates," she added. "I think our candidates are of such quality that the Democrats will be voting for them, too."

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