The political pendulum seems to be swinging again in Stanislaus County as Republicans gain ground in voter registration. Democrats still have a 1 percentage point registration edge, but two years ago they had a nearly 5 percentage point advantage.
With six weeks left before the November election, both main political parties are pushing hard to get supporters signed up to vote.
"Because of the bad job experiences they've had here the last four years, people who left the Republican Party are coming back now," said Nancy Hinton of Modesto, a member of the Republican Central Committee in Stanislaus County.
Last year, there were fewer than 83,000 Republicans in Stanislaus. Now there are more than 87,000. That's a gain of more than 4,000.
Stanislaus' Democrats, by contrast, have lost nearly 8,000 members, falling from about 97,000 to 89,000 since last year.
The county's political split stood at 40.28 percent Democrats and 39.22 percent Republicans as of Sept. 7, which are the most recent statistics available.
Democratic Party leaders say they are not worried about the decline.
"Party registration always fluctuates back and forth," said Gary Robbins, Democratic Central Committee chairman in Stanislaus County. "I grew up here, and I've seen it shift all over the place."
That's certainly been true since 2000.
More Republicans in valley
Registration statistics posted on the California secretary of state's Web site show Democrats had the most members in Stanislaus County until 2003, then Republicans were ahead from 2004 through 2007.
There was a big shift in 2008, with Democrats gaining clout and Republicans losing it. But this year, the trend began reversing.
"We are very pleased with the progress that Republicans have made," said Dave Gilliard, spokesman for Republican Rep. Jeff Denham's campaign for the 10th Congressional District. The district includes all of Stanislaus County, plus Escalon, Ripon, Manteca and Tracy.
While Republican registration statewide has fallen to about 30 percent compared with more than 43 percent for Democrats Gilliard said the Northern San Joaquin Valley is different.
"California continues to split along east-west lines, with the coastal areas moving left and the valley, foothill and mountain areas trending conservative," Gilliard said. He contends that Denham's opponent, Democrat Jose Hernandez, is "better suited for one of those left-
leaning coastal seats than for the valley."
Many still unregistered
That's not how Hernandez's campaign chief, Dan Krupnick, sees it.
"The Central Valley is a diverse area where political party isn't the first factor that voters make in deciding who to vote for," Krupnick said. He believes Hernandez's life story from growing up in a migrant farmworker family to becoming an astronaut "transcends politics" and excites people.
"The enthusiastic voters Jose meets every day are sick of party politics and want to know which candidate has a vision for the future," Krupnick said.
Judging by how many decline to state their preference when registering, thousands of Stanislaus residents aren't impressed by any political party. Currently, 15.81 percent of Stanislaus voters have no political party.
Minor political parties don't get much support in Stanislaus County, either. American Independents have 2.6 percent of those registered, but no other party has more than one-half of 1 percent.
Less than 69 percent of all eligible voters have registered in Stanislaus County. Voter participation is higher elsewhere in California, with the state registration rate at nearly 73 percent.
There's still time for things to change. Voters have until Oct. 22 to register, which will enable them to vote in the Nov. 6 election which features the presidential race, contests for Congress and the state Legislature, a host of statewide initiatives and, in some cities, city council races.
"We just put 2,000 new registrations in last week," said Lee Lundrigan, Stanislaus' registrar of voters. "We anticipate the number of voters to increase through the deadline."
The state recently made it even easier to register. Citizens 18 and older who have signatures on file with the California Department of Motor Vehicles can sign up online at www.RegisterToVote.ca.gov.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2196.