While the Republican Party usually prevails in northern Gila County, Sunday belonged to the Democrats.
The Payson branch of the Gila County Democrats staged an open house and grand opening of its new headquarters at 418 S. Beeline Highway in conjunction with a ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of D-Day. Candidates and other Democratic dignitaries from throughout the county were on hand for the event, which included a barbecue, a giant cake, and lots of energy the Democrats hope will carry over to victory in November.
The spacious new headquarters, while not the first in northern Gila County, is a major step up from the facility that served as headquarters during the 2002 election campaign.
"They tell me that one was a storage shed," Gila County Democratic chairperson Mark Reza said. "They could seat two people in it."
As about 200 guests toured the facility, Dr. Ginny Creager, headquarters manager, talked about a new vitality among local Democrats.
"We're growing in strength in this town," Creager said. "I think many (local Democrats) were just lying very low, but now we have a rallying point in our headquarters. Now we have visibility. We have a place to gather, to generate new ideas, and to start the volunteer effort, which includes fund-raising."
The new headquarters features a front reception area where visitors can register to vote, sign candidates' petitions, sign up to volunteer, and pick up bumper stickers, buttons and other promotional materials for candidates ranging from John Kerry down to Democrats competing in county races.
Volunteers are crucial to the local Democrats, according to Creager.
The new headquarters also has a spacious meeting room where groups like the Democratic Women of the Rim Country meet. Marlla Hinds, women's president, said the group is growing rapidly.
"We only started in January with six women," Hinds said. "We grew to 23 the next month, then 42, then 52. At the last meeting there were 60 of us."
Hinds says there are actually more registered Democrats than Republicans in northern Gila County, but that local Republicans have so far done a better job of organizing and getting their party members to vote.
According to Dixie Mundy, Gila County elections director, the Rim country (from Tonto Basin to Pine-Strawberry) had 6,064 registered Republicans and 3,333 registered Democrats as of March 1. County-wide, there were 12,654 registered Democrats and 8,564 registered Republicans.
The Democratic Headquarters is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, but hours will be extended as the election gets nearer.
Democratic Women of the Rim Country meet the third Monday of each month at 12:30 p.m. at the headquarters.
To volunteer, call (928) 474-8936 or (928) 595-4405.