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Local parties assess priorities

When it comes to fundraising, county Republicans are beating the Democrats handily.

Published July 22, 2005

FEATHER SOUND - As election season kicks up a year early, the Pinellas Democratic Party says it has raised more money sooner than usual.

It's still four times less than its Republican counterpart.

The money hunt was one of several topics party leaders tackled Thursday at a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club luncheon that also included jabs over Social Security, reapportionment and local nonpartisan elections.

Democratic Chairwoman Carrie Wadlinger said her party so far has pocketed $35,000 to $40,000 in contributions, far outpacing other nonelection years. But the party has spent all but $5,100, according to a June 30 treasurer's report filed with the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office.

Wadlinger said she expects contributions to double by the fall and again at the end of the year.

Republicans, meanwhile, have raised $140,000 to support their slate of candidates, said local GOP Chairman Tony DiMatteo. He twice asked club members to contribute more money during Thursday's lunch at the Feather Sound Country Club.

"If you want to write me a check, by all means, I will appreciate it," said the county's party chairman, a native New Yorker who ruffled some club members at times with direct answers.

DiMatteo, who runs a local pest control business, suggested that Democrats complaining about reapportioned legislative districts are whiners.

And whiners, he said, "are not winners."

He also said that the Pinellas County School Board and judicial races should be partisan elections, so voters would know who's a Republican and who's a Democrat. During his talk, DiMatteo held up an unmarked tin can: "Labels help you decide what you want to buy," he said.

Wadlinger, who ran for clerk of the circuit court in 2004 and lost to Republican Ken Burke, focused more on national politics, saying Republicans are out of step with Americans when it comes to Social Security and health care issues.

The local Democratic Party has become more organized and energized in the last year, she said.

In Pinellas, Republicans have 7,500 more registered voters than Democrats do. But President Bush lost the county to Al Gore in 2000 and defeated John Kerry last year by only 226 votes.

Both party leaders played down the registration numbers, highlighting the large pack of voters unaffiliated with either party.

"If you live north of Gulf-to-Bay, it seems to be a status symbol to have an "R' after your name," Wadlinger said. DiMatteo also suggested that party affiliation is a less important barometer on how someone will vote.

"Many registered Republicans are not actually Republicans," he said.

[Last modified July 22, 2005, 00:32:15]

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