Republicans gaining strength in Democrat-dominated Jefferson County

Marilyn Tennissen Nov. 6, 2008, 10:00am

Jefferson County voters may have joined the majority of Americans in voting for Democrat Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, but the county's Republican Party still had its own type of victory on Election Day. The GOP saw the number of straight-party Republican voters in Jefferson County increase by nearly 4,000 ballots.

"The Republican Party in Jefferson County has been making a lot of progress in the last four to six years," Shane Howard, chair of the county GOP, said in a telephone interview.

According to election returns, 20, 590 votes were cast as straight-party Republican in Jefferson County, or 37 percent of votes. Four years ago, only 16,315 votes were cast for the Rep ticket, accounting for 31 percent of total votes.

Democrats voting straight-party actually declined in 2008. In the last general election, 68.42 percent of voters went straight-party Democrat, a total of 36,011 votes. In 2008, there were only 34, 517 straight-party Dem ballots cast, a 62.42 percentage.

Howard said the local Republican Party used a grass-roots approach to increase awareness of the party in the traditionally Democratic county. In recent years, the GOP had begun to gain footholds in parts of the West End of Beaumont and some areas in Mid-Jefferson County, but Howard said the party wanted to move out of those small enclaves.

"We wanted to make it seem less exclusive and take it to the neighborhoods and to the people," he said. "We decided to start talking to other people than ourselves."

One way they did that was to have members host block parties to reach out to friends and neighbors that had an interest, but maybe not an actual involvement, in the campaign process.

He added that the Jefferson County Republican Party also acted as the campaign headquarters for GOP candidate John McCain.

"We basically ran the local McCain/Palin campaign," Howard said. "The campaign didn't spend much money in Texas, so we kept the information flowing. We had really great people involved."

McCain was correct in not spending much of his precious campaign funds in the Lone Star State, as its residents have turned Texas solidly "red" – with the exception of Jefferson County and several counties in the Rio Grande Valley.

Jefferson County voters cast 44,854 ballots for the Obama/Biden ticket, or 50.76 percent. Republicans John McCain and Sarah Palin received 2.9 million votes, or 55.47 percent, statewide.

The 2008 election was not much different from the last general election, when Jefferson County voters favored John Kerry by 51.25 percent, while the state as a whole gave its 34 electoral votes to George W. Bush for reelection.

While pundits predicted record-breaking turnout this year, there were actually fewer votes cast – and fewer registered voters – in Jefferson County for the 2008 election. However the final percentage showed a slight increase.

A total of 93,291 votes were cast in 2004, a 57.08 percent turnout of the 163,291 registered voters. In 2008, there were 88,831 votes cast, a 58.61 percent turnout of the county's 151,568 registered voters.

And for the Republicans in Jefferson County, Howard said the party is expecting to continue its upward climb.

"Just watch us in the next two to four years," Howard said. "We haven't even begun yet. People will be surprised by the different types of people that become involved."

More News