Democrats have won some close elections in Sarasota County in recent years.
“A couple hundred, a couple thousand voter registrations actually does matter,” Good said.
Florida Democrats have struggled to keep up with Republicans when it comes to voter registration, though.
In 2008, there were 658,000 more Democrats in Florida than Republicans, but that advantage shrank to just 23,055 by August.
And even when Democrats turn their focus to voter registration, they often overlook places that lean Republican, such as Southwest Florida, in favor of big urban areas.
In other news:
After losing her race for Congress against Vern Buchanan last year, Good decided to stay involved in politics by focusing on voter registration in her backyard. Her new political action committee – Build Local Power – is off to a fast start.
The committee began raising money in May and already has collected $128,382 and spent $101,134 over the last five months on a voter registration campaign.
Major contributors include Stan Van Gundy, a television broadcaster and former NBA coach who gave Good’s committee $10,000, and Sarasota retiree Dennis Rees, who gave $5,000.
Build Local Power already has 925 donors, including many prominent Sarasota Democrats such as former county party chairs Rita Ferrandino and Christine Jennings and former congressional candidate David Shapiro.
Voter registration has been a point of frustration for many Democrats as the Florida GOP steadily closes the registration gap under state party Chair Joe Gruters, a state senator from Sarasota.
The fact that Good felt the need to boost voter registration efforts could be viewed as an implicit criticism of the Florida Democratic Party’s lackluster voter registration campaign.
“I think that we all have a role to play,” Good said. “The Florida Democratic Party is doing what it can to get people registered to vote and support candidates and win elections. That does not mean there is not space for other people and entities that care to show up and do everything they can to support this effort. Every Democrat in Florida who cares and wants to be involved in making a change should support this effort.”
For now, Good’s committee is focused on registering voters in Southwest Florida. Asked if she would consider expanding statewide, Good said: “I like to do everything I can to create the change I believe is necessary and we’ll see how this grows.”
Sarasota GOP Acting Chair Jack Brill said he’s not concerned about Good’s efforts.
“The number of registered Republicans in Sarasota County continues to climb and it shows that the voters are supporting good government run by Republicans with greater personal freedom and fiscal responsibility,” Brill said.
Sarasota GOP vaccine outlier
The partisan divide in vaccinations has become increasingly evident as the pandemic wears on.
The Top 15 states with the highest vaccination rates all voted for Democratic President Joe Biden, while the bottom 15 least vaccinated states all voted for former Republican President Donald Trump.
Polls show Democrats trust in the vaccine more than Republicans on the whole.
So what explains Sarasota County’s vaccination rate of 76% of the eligible population?
Only four counties in Florida have a higher vaccination rate than Sarasota, and three of the four voted for Biden.
Sarasota – which went for Trump by double digit margins in both 2016 and 2020 – even has a higher vaccination rate than three blue counties – Orange, Leon and Alachua.
Yet while Leon and Alachua counties have big universities and a lot of young people, Sarasota has one of the oldest populations in the state.
Age is big risk factor for serious COVID-19 complications. Many older Republicans appear to recognize that, and are rejecting the vaccine skepticism that has gripped other conservative-leaning individuals.
Sarasota also is among the most educated counties in Florida, with more than a third of residents over the age of 25 having a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Surveys have shown a correlation between educational attainment and vaccine acceptance. Some of the states with the highest education levels also are the most vaccinated.
Sarasota County Commissioner Christian Ziegler, the vice chair of the Florida GOP, said it’s not surprising that some conservatives would be wary of the vaccine, or that Sarasota County as a whole would be a vaccine leader in Florida despite Trump’s success here.
Ziegler, a big Trump backer, supports the vaccine.
“I think people should go get vaccinated,” he said.
Yet he also understands the reluctance among some individuals to get it.
“The harder government pushes something, and the more aggressively they do it, naturally the more conservatives and libertarians are going to have questions about it,” Ziegler said. “That’s just innate in our blood. We just don’t trust the government.”
Yet with the COVID-19 vaccines proving to be incredibly effective at preventing hospitalization and death, older people have been especially eager to get the shots.
Florida’s statewide vaccination rate among those 12 and older is 71%, but among those 65 and older it’s 88%.
Nearly four out of every 10 Sarasota County residents (37.3%) are 65 or older, compared to 16.5% nationwide. Charlotte and Sumter counties are the only Florida counties with older populations than Sarasota, and both also have high vaccination rates.
“In Sarasota, where our population is so much older, we have a lot of people who are at risk,” Ziegler said. “I think our age demographics here naturally makes us an area where we’re going to have more people vaccinated because there’s more older people living here.”
Yet despite having a high vaccination rate among Florida counties, Sarasota still has a large pool of unvaccinated adults.
Miami-Dade County’s vaccination rate already is up to 91%.
Sarasota’s vaccination rate increased eight percentage points from early July, when the delta wave of the virus began to accelerate, but nearly a quarter of the eligible population still is unvaccinated.
The delta wave severely strained the region’s hospitals, generating record levels of COVID-19 patients. Sarasota Memorial nearly doubled the size of its intensive care unit and suspended elective surgeries.
Could another wave of infections create similar problems if the vaccination rate doesn’t continue to increase significantly?
Ziegler questioned whether there’s anything else the county can do to boost vaccinations.
“We’re at the point where we’ve educated, we’re giving people full access, we’ve expressed how important it is,” he said. “Outside of that we’re not going to mandates and we’re not going to be firing cops and health care workers in Sarasota County because they’re not vaccinated; that’s insane.”
Manatee GOP chair steps down
Manatee GOP Chair Kathy King has stepped down after 15 years leading the party.
King was one of the longest-serving county party chairs in the state, having first taken over the job in 2006, and the GOP has been highly successful in Manatee during her tenure.
Trump carried the county by large margins and Republicans have done well in down ballot races.
King fended off a challenge from the right last year by Lakewood Ranch Republican Club President Steve Vernon. She left 10 months after winning re-election, announcing in September that she no longer would be chair effective Oct. 1. She did not respond to an interview request.
Vernon campaigned on getting more conservative candidates in office. He said he plans to run again to replace King and already has the endorsement of state Rep. Tommy Gregory, state Rep. Will Robinson and state Sen. Jim Boyd.
Vernon talked last year about having the party endorse in primaries, an idea drew criticism from some Republicans who worried it would narrow the party’s appeal. Now he’s talking about being a bridge between conservatives, a label he identifies with, and moderates.
“We’ve got a great foundation,” Vernon said. “Kathy King did a great job the last 15 years in building a great foundation but now I want to build on top of that and I think my connections with patriot groups and also regular conservative Republicans and even moderates, I can be a bridge.”
Follow Herald-Tribune Political Editor Zac Anderson on Twitter at @zacjanderson. He can be reached at email@example.com
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