Texans fight for popular votes in Bush’s home state

Texans fight for popular votes in Bush’s home state

Texans fight for popular votes in Bush’s home state

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: Political News

LENGTH: 911 words

DATELINE: PLANO, Texas

This is a red state. End of story. No need for President Bush or John Kerry to campaign in Texas.

Yet, even as the national campaigns focus on key battleground states, activists wage a grassroots war here in Bush Country and in other places long ago marked off as Democratic blue or Republican red.

It’s a fight for the popular vote, waged with yard signs, bumper stickers and pamphlets distributed door to door.

“The Republicans, from the White House on down, are trying to generate more votes in states like Texas,” said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist and expert on campaigns. “They very much fear that Bush, if he wins the Electoral College, will once again lose the popular vote.”

In 2000, Bush’s much-protracted win in Florida gave him the White House, with 271 electoral votes to Democrat Al Gore’s 266.

However, Gore claimed a half million more popular votes: 50,999,897 to Bush’s 50,456,002.

“Four years ago, people who supported Bush in places like Texas said, ‘Oh, yeah, Bush is a shoo-in,’ so they didn’t go vote,” said Bradley Wimpee, a 23-year-old Republican activist and student at Collin County Community College in Plano. “So now, we’re trying to get them out there to vote and show the Democrats.”

In the booming suburban communities of Collin County, north of Dallas, Bush received 73 percent of the vote in 2000, when he was still Texas governor.

But Rick Neudorff, chairman of the Republican Party of Collin County, predicts improved turnout will push Bush’s margin of victory even higher in this bastion of evangelical Christianity and conservative political views.

“My goal for the last year has been to turn out large numbers of Republican voters in Collin County to offset as many counties around the nation as possible,” said Neudorff, who’s enlisted volunteers to knock on doors and call potential voters.

But Democrats – trying to mobilize voters in a county where no Democrat has run for sheriff or commissioner in 20 years – say they’re working just as hard. Their goal: to persuade Kerry supporters that their votes count, even in Republican-dominated Collin County.

“You hate your state being written off as not being a player,” said Deborah Angell Smith, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Collin County. “There are lots of us who think if we had more resources from the national campaign that Texas could be a battleground state.”

That’s debatable, particularly in Collin County, where political conversations inevitably turn to issues such as abortion, gay marriage, gun rights and capital punishment.

Folks here tend to like big churches, big shopping malls and big youth sports complexes. But they frown on big government.

“The perception has been that there are no Democrats in Collin County,” said Smith, who moved to the county six years ago from Corpus Christi. “That’s one of the reasons we are working hard to get out yard signs and bumper stickers – to be visible.”

Smith said she encourages activists to be “evangelical Democrats,” and in some places that approach seems to be working.

On the leafy Pebble Beach Court cul-de-sac in Richardson, between Plano and Dallas, Kerry-Edwards signs actually outnumber Bush-Cheney signs 5-2.

For Tanja Sewell-Pattist, one of the neighbors with a Kerry-Edwards sign, that’s progress in itself.

“So many people run to church every Sunday, but they don’t seem concerned that the guys mowing our lawns and the people cutting our hair don’t have health insurance,” said Sewell-Pattist, a 42-year-old engineer who favors abortion rights and considers herself an environmentalist.

For many years, Sewell-Pattist said, life as a Democrat in Collin County was downright lonely. Skepticism and argument met anyone who dared mention at a cocktail party or book club meeting that they were a Democrat, she said.

Now, though, she said she runs into more Democrats, such as her neighbor Tracy Silcott, a 39-year-old mother of two who moved to Richardson three years ago.

Silcott has a 7-year-old daughter who plays soccer. There’s a sport-utility vehicle and a pickup in the driveway below a basketball goal. The family has a brick mailbox.

It looks like a typical household in this upper middle-class, Republican-leaning county.

Except for that Kerry-Edwards sign out front.

“I don’t get any ribbing from anybody around here,” said Silcott, who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 and opposes Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq. “The biggest comment I got was from my neighbor – and I do not know whether he is a Republican or a Democrat – who said, ‘I’m just not a fan of yard art.’ ”

With the intensity of feelings strong – evidenced by claims of widespread sign stealing on both sides – Republicans and Democrats both say they intend to improve their 2000 numbers in Collin County.

Neudorff said significant polling by Republicans indicates that Bush support could hit 75 to 76 percent in Collin County.

But Democrats hope to push Kerry’s support as high as 40 percent, said Barbara Walters, a 57-year-old party volunteer.

“I think we’re looking for a small win to indicate that there’s a shift,” Walters said.

Still, on the question of which candidate will grab a majority of votes in Collin County, nobody disagrees.

This is a red state. End of story.