Democrats, Republicans Put On Push For Primaries

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Rim country Democrats are gearing up for the 2004 Democratic primary election in just a couple of weeks -- and their Republican opposition is lying in wait.

The primary is bound to produce new ground to cover for both groups, eager to strategically back their candidates for the Presidency.

The 2004 election prompted Democrats of Northern Gila County to sprout; they awoke from hibernation and reinvented themselves in October 2003.

And the upcoming elections activated Democrat get-out-the-vote campaigns, meetings, speakers and a float in Payson's Electric Light Parade.

"We're getting a lot of people who want to find out about us," said chairman Sydney Whitely, 71. "Some people come in and say ‘I thought I was the only Democrat in the town of Payson.'"

Whitely said the organization has grown to nearly 25 members who meet at least once a month along with a newborn Democrat women's organization.

"We're seeing groups like this pop up all over the state," said Paul Hegarty, Arizona Democratic Party executive director. "You're going to see a lot of political activity this year."

Though the Rim country organization hasn't endorsed a candidate for the primary, Whitely said retired Gen. Wesley Clark, Rep. Dick Gephardt and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean took the reins in Arizona as top contenders in the candidacy for President of the United States.

After a poor showing in the Iowa caucus, Gephardt dropped out of the presidential race.

Dean has been losing ground ever since being soundly defeated by John Kerry, who just a few weeks earlier was considered dead in the water.

Health care reform, foreign policy and the war are main issues this year, Whitely said.

Whitely said that it basically comes down to one common goal: a change of the current administration.

But some Payson Republicans believe no Democratic primary candidate can take on President George W. Bush.

"At this point we're just waiting to see what happens," said Connie Bullock, Mogollon Republican Women treasurer and founder. "I don't see that any of them is a big threat."

Bullock said her organization, which also sponsors speakers and holds monthly meetings, also is doing nothing short of the norm.

"We're going out and pushing for Bush, manning the phones, pushing the doorbells, talking it up," she said. "We stand behind President Bush 100 percent."

Bullock said it's nice to see some competition from Democrats.

"I think it's fine," Bullock said. "I'm pleased with it. Competition is good for people."

While the Payson area has a Republican majority -- 54.5 percent Republican versus 28.3 percent Democrats -- the opposite is true for Gila County.

According to Gila County Elections Director Dixie Mundy, the county statistics for voter registration show 50.8 percent of the county is registered Democrat and 34.5 percent is registered Republican.

"For years the Democrats have felt defeated up there (in northern Gila County)," said Gayl Overgaard, chair of the Gila County Democrats. "But with this new group of people, I sense some excitement here that I haven't sensed before."

Camilla Strongin, spokeswoman for the Arizona Republican Party said the party hopes to register 110,000 new Republican voters between 2003 and 2004 statewide, and the party is looking at northern Arizona to be an important area.

But before the general election, Democrats have to push through the primary.

With nine highly visible candidates running and nine other on the ballot, competition is fierce and pollsters believe the undecided will have the most pull in the election.

Both parties are anxiously awaiting the nomination to determine their next move.

"(At meetings), we talk amongst ourselves and try to determine who would have the best chance against Bush," said Roberto Sanchez, member of the Democrats of Northern Gila County. "The most important thing is to get people out to vote."

Where to vote

The Arizona Democratic Presidential Preference Election is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2004. The polling places for the Payson, Pine and Tonto Basin areas are as follows:

Payson No. 1, No. 3, No. 7, No. 8 will vote at the Payson First Assembly of God Church.

Payson No. 2, No. 4, No. 5, No. 6 and Star Valley will vote at the Mt.. Cross Lutheran Church.

Pine-Strawberry will vote at the First Baptist Church of Pine.

Tonto Basin will vote at the Tonto Basin School.

Polling place hours are 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Ballots will be mailed to all registered Democrats in the following precincts:

Whispering Pines, Zane Grey, and Gisela. A ballot replacement site in each mail ballot precinct will be open on election day from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. as follows:

Whispering Pines precinct -- Whispering Pines Fire Station

Zane Grey precinct -- R-Bar-C Boy Scout Ranch

Gisela precinct -- Gisela Valley Community Center

Young precinct -- Pleasant Valley Community Center

Sample ballots were mailed to the households of all Gila County registered Democrats by January 25, 2004. For questions regarding the Presidential Preference Election, call the Gila County Division of Elections at (928) 425-3231, ext. 8708, 8709 or 8750.

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