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Posted: November 8, 2012 10:04 p.m.

Obama takes Newton again

County races show closing gap between GOP and Democrats

President Barack Obama once again made history Tuesday, winning his re-election bid in sweeping fashion, and he captured an even higher percentage of Newton County's votes than four years ago, despite a still sluggish economy and Georgia's staunchly Republican tendencies.

Obama received 50.45 percent of the vote (21,844 votes) in Newton County, outpacing Republican Mitt Romney's 48.45 percent tally (20,979 votes). The president bested the local support he saw in 2008, when he captured 50.21 percent of the vote in a historic election that saw a Newton County majority support a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since Bill Clinton's initial election in 1992.

Many people - with Republicans leading the push - questioned whether the 2008 turnout was an anomaly that wouldn't be repeated. At least in Newton County, that wasn't the case. And given shifting demographics, Republicans might be hard pressed to regain the popular vote in Newton County four years, though an open seat is a much different challenge than facing a still-popular incumbent.

Every major metro area in the state went Democratic, but the metro Atlanta only saw six counties vote Democratic, including Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Douglas, Rockdale and Newton counties.

Newton has long been considered a split county, with a more urban, densely-populated, metro-centered western half and a rural, small-town focused eastern half. That split seems to have played out in the voting, as Obama narrowly won the popular vote, while some local races, particularly the open chairman seat, were incredibly close as well.

"Nationally, we are elated," said Sarah Todd, chair of the Newton County Democrats. "The people that needed to win, did win, and they won big... It was a wonderful night for women. Republicans who had very bad things to say for women, who showed contempt, disregard and disrespect, all lost. It was a huge hit to the Tea Party, which was a great thing, and we look forward to taking them out in 2014."

Mixed bag locally
In neighboring Rockdale County, Democrats swept the election, with the exception of the sheriff's race, which still has yet to be decided as Republican incumbent Sheriff Jeff Wigginton holds onto an 18-vote edge with 237 provisional ballots yet to be decided.

Three Republican incumbents - probate court judge, tax commissioner and magistrate court judge - were unseated by varying degrees. For perspective, Obama garnered 57.63 percent of the total vote in Rockdale.

The sentiment shared by some in Rockdale County was that Democrats would sweep those seats, even those with little or no attachment to traditional politics, simply based on the demographics in the county.

In Newton County no incumbents were unseated in the General Election, and Chairman Kathy Morgan was the lone incumbent to lose in the primary, as she finished 422 votes behind fellow Democrat Marcus Jordan.

Some long-held county seats went uncontested altogether on both sides, including superior court clerk and probate judge, along with tax commissioner and district attorney.

However, the Democratic Party put up challengers for the other seats, including against its own incumbents, Morgan and District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz. No Republican incumbents faced opposition from inside the party, though Republicans also sought to unseat Democratic incumbents. Following its bylaws, the Democratic Party did not officially support either candidate in the race.

The most heated race of the campaign season was for sheriff, where incumbent Sheriff Ezell Brown captured 56.18 percent of the vote and defeated Republican challenger Philip Bradford by 5,253 votes. Brown was the first black sheriff to be elected in Newton County, a historic result that coincided with Obama's victory and continued with Tuesday's results.

"Locally, we were pleased with results," Todd said. "Sheriff Brown won handily. I had been telling people that he was the right man for the job.

"We're also pleased that Nancy retained her seat. Now more than ever we need the experience and leadership she's been able to provide."

The race for chairman was the closest and may shed the most light on where people stand since no incumbent was involved in the General Election. Republican Keith Ellis captured 21,144 votes (50.86 percent) edging out Marcus Jordan by 742 votes.

However, Ellis greatly outspent Jordan and, as a self-employed businessman, had a more flexible schedule when it came to campaigning, yet still barely crossed the threshold.

County Coroner Tommy Davis, an incumbent Republican, also had a narrow victory over Democratic challenger Robert Bradley Sr., capturing 52.51 percent (21,675) of the vote.

Newton County Republican Chairwoman Delia Fleming could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Looking at the numbers
As for the demographics which were thought to play such a big role in Rockdale, the county had 46.7 percent black residents and 9.9 percent Hispanic residents in 2011, with 40.7 percent of residents non-Hispanic white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Newton County's resident breakdown is 41.3 percent black and 4.8 percent Hispanic, with 51.9 percent non-Hispanic white.

Nationally, according to an article in Bloomberg quoting the Pew Research Center, 87 percent of registered Republicans are white, while registered Democrats are 61 percent white (a number that appears to be dropping), 21 percent black and 10 percent Hispanic.

During the population boom of the 2000s, 70 percent of Newton County's growth was from black residents (26,681), while the Hispanic population quadrupled, with new white residents making up the rest of the growth (5,974).

Many residents certainly vote split ticket, but with partisan politics on the rise locally and nationally, get out the vote campaigns could lead to more predictable outcomes in local elections if people vote straight ticket. Historically, black Americans vote Democratic more than 85 percent of the time, according to FactCheck.org, while white Americans have voted Republican 56 percent of the time during the past decade, according to a story in The American Prospect, a liberal political magazine.

Voter turnout high again
Voter turnout was once again high at 74.95 percent, though slightly down from prior years. Turnout was 76.33 percent in 2008 and 78.14 percent in 2004, though only 65.11 percent in 2000, according to records at the Newton County Board of Elections. The Newton County board didn't record voter turnout on records dating back to 1996 and prior election.

Election officials were working Wednesday and Thursday to finalize the results, which are expected to be certified Friday. The county had only a handful of provisional ballots - those where residents don't have proper ID and must present a valid ID to the board of elections within three days for their vote to be county.

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