Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Tuesday Had Its Upside for Area GOP

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Tuesday Had Its Upside for Area GOP

Article excerpt

A FIREWALL: A halt to the Democrats' momentum in Sarasota and Manatee

After six years of watching Democrats make big gains in Sarasota and Manatee counties in top-of-the-ticket races, Republicans in the region finally have reason to cheer Tuesday's presidential results.

Though Mitt Romney lost the presidency and narrowly trailed in Florida, he took Sarasota and Manatee by large margins, stopping Democratic momentum that had been building in presidential and gubernatorial races.

"This was a huge victory for us," Sarasota Republican Party chairman Joe Gruters said.

That's because county Republican parties were still feeling the sting from 2008, when John McCain won Manatee by 10,687 votes and Sarasota by just 211. Four years earlier, the two counties combined to give George W. Bush a margin of victory of 36,000 votes combined.

Redemption came Tuesday. The results show Romney carried the counties by 34,660 votes -- close to the margin enjoyed by Bush.

It was not enough to help Romney overcome Obama statewide, but locally it was a critical saving of face after four years of wondering if Republicans were losing their grip in a region that has been so solidly GOP since the 1980s.

"We've essentially rebuilt our perimeter wall," Gruters said.

"I think we have made the case that this is going to be a red county for the next 10 years."

That seemed anything but certain going into the election, because of Obama's nearwin in 2008 in Sarasota, as well as the trends over the last three governor's races.

Since 2002, Republicans have watched margins of victory in governor's races narrow with each election. Republican Jeb Bush's nearly 27,000-vote margin in 2002 in Sarasota fell to 16,000 for Republican Charlie Crist in 2006.

In 2010, Rick Scott won Sarasota by less than 7,000 votes.

Manatee saw a similar trend. Bush's 21,000-vote margin in 2002 eroded to 13,000 for Scott. …

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