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Brunswick Democrats mount fight for votes

Brunswick County Democratic Party Chairwoman Donna Silva said she will focus on getting out the vote as a way to help Democrats in November's general elections.

Looking at the numbers from Tuesday's primary, she's got her work cut out for her.

A total of 4,890 primary voters chose Democratic ballots for the 2010 Brunswick primary, while 10,450 cast Republican votes. Unaffiliated voters may choose to vote in the primary of their choice.

The numbers are striking, but even more so when compared with the 2008 primary. Then, 16,860 voted Democrat and 6,707 Republican.

"We had 22 candidates vying for the races," George Bell, Brunswick Republican chairman, said Wednesday of this year's election. "We've never had that kind of enthusiasm before."

The enthusiasm was evident at Republican Party headquarters Tuesday night, where the gathered faithful waved campaign signs and cheered the post-election arrival of Bill Rabon, who won the Republican primary for the N.C. Senate seat now held by R.C. Soles, who isn't seeking re-election.

David Redwine, the Democratic candidate for Soles' seat, sat alone at one of many empty tables at Democratic Party headquarters, eating a plate of chicken wings.

Some Brunswick County Democrats weren't even all that surprised that Rex Gore, the county's district attorney for 20 years, lost to Harold Pope, a Columbus County attorney. Pope will face Republican Jon David in the November vote.

"Everyone knew that Mr. Gore had his challenges," Silva said, listing perceived associations with Soles, who is under state investigation for alleged sexual misconduct, and former Brunswick County sheriff Ron Hewett as prominent among them.

But Silva rejected conclusions that might be drawn from a look at the overall vote totals this year and in 2008. The two elections can't be compared, she said. In 2008, Democrats were energized by the presidential election, Silva said. In 2010, Republicans were energized by a full slate of primary candidates.

Rendy Lewis, who won the Democratic primary to face Sheriff John Ingram in November, suggested another possibility for the overall numbers. She said that Ingram and Timothy Daniels, both former Democrats and opponents in Tuesday's primary, encouraged Democrats to switch registration to "Unaffiliated" so they could vote in the contest.

"Some are already asking about switching back," Lewis said.

Republicans have the first check in their column, though.

Incumbent Brunswick County Commissioner Marty Cooke won the Republican primary against challenger Randy Sullivan. The vote is likely final as no one has filed in another party for the November vote.

"I didn't campaign much," Cooke said to explain his relatively narrow, 9 percent victory. "I found that people don't know who commissioners are."

Other Republican incumbents won their primary contests by 20 percent to 30 percent or more.

Now, Bell said, his focus will be on getting Republicans to stick to their slate of candidates and not polarize themselves over small philosophical differences.

He said Republicans have a tendency to "decide that somebody's not Republican enough to vote for" and punch a Democrat's name on the ballot.

Bell said he is confronting the challenge head-on, talking about it directly at Republican Party executive committee meetings and other places.

"I think Republicans becoming of like mind is our biggest challenge," he said.

Bell believes Republicans will be generally triumphant in November, although he thinks that Rabon will have a tough race against Redwine, a former N.C. House member who at one time was chairman of the House Finance Committee, one of the body's most powerful positions. Redwine, Bell said, has presence, name recognition and experience, and Rabon's going to have to campaign well enough to overcome that.

Bell also said that Ilario Gregory Pantano, who won the Republican primary for the U.S. House 7th District seat, could have a tough time with incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre, who was unopposed in the primary.

"Mr. Pantano has a tough fight," Bell said. "I've met Mr. McIntyre. Basically, he's a nice man."

Silva was sticking with her primary night prediction that Democrats will hold onto what are now Democrat seats and take over two Brunswick County Board of Education seats now held by Republicans.

She's not worried about the numbers differences. She moved South from a Republican stronghold in Ohio and says she's used to the role of underdog.

"I thrive on challenges," she said.