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Brunswick Democrats squeezed out by GOP

Brunswick County voters going to the polls for the May 4 primary will be casting ballots in the county's first election with more Republicans registered than Democrats.

One-stop voting in the historic election starts Thursday for 14 primary races, and 27,813 Republicans are eligible to vote compared with 27,638 Democrats.

The total registration of 75,705 includes 20,102 people registered as unaffiliated and 92 Libertarians, according to the Brunswick County Board of Elections. In the 2008 primary, there were 70,139 registered voters, 26,165 of whom were Republicans, 27,571 Democrats and 16,403 unaffiliated. There were no Libertarians registered for the '08 primary.

George Bell, chairman of the Brunswick Republican Party, said he's guessing that prominent local elected officials switching parties may have something to do with his party being ahead in the number of registered voters.

Most notably, Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram and Chief Deputy Sheriff Charlie Miller, a school board member, switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party earlier this year. Ingram said at the time that he wasn't doing it because of the increasing number of Republicans in Brunswick County, but because the Republican Party more accurately reflected his own political philosophy.

Bell theorized that, like Ingram, other Brunswick County Democrats have become disenchanted with their party and have switched to Republicans.

"Nobody knows for sure," Bell said.

Pearly Vereen, a lifelong Democrat and a former chairman of the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners, sees it differently. The growth in the number of Republicans is as plain as the license plates on the vehicles new residents drive to their new Brunswick County homes.

"It says we've got a lot of move-ins," Vereen said. "But if you put the right candidate in [to run], it won't make any difference."

Vereen called people like Ingram and Miller "wishy-washy" and said their new party affiliations were adopted just to get elected. He predicted that if they or any other elected Republicans don't do a good job in office, voters will show them the exit door.

Brunswick County Republicans chortled after the final '08 vote, when they captured all the locally-contested seats on the ballot and delivered the county to John McCain even as the majority in the state voted for Barack Obama, the first Democrat to carry the state in decades.

The real key to victory in the county, though, lies with those registered unaffiliated. The growth in their numbers has consistently outpaced those of either major party for at least several years, perhaps reflecting Bell's overall assessment of voters' party loyalty and Vereen's belief that only those who serve the people will stay in office.

"What I find," Bell said, "is that most people aren't as passionate about their affiliation as I am."