Pinellas County goes from red to blue

Evan Axelbank reports

- Michelle Stagnitta knows that every door she knocks on, or person she calls, could be the difference in who wins Pinellas County, Florida, and the presidency.

"It is an energy, it is a passion," she said.

The Clinton volunteer,  who has been canvassing seven days a week, is keenly aware that her party now has a lead of 1,300 registered voters in Pinellas County, a county that has voted with the last four presidential winners.

"It's the feeling that I am part of something that is going to be good," Stagnitta said.

Back in 2000, Pinellas Republicans had an edge of 28,000 registered voters.  George W. Bush won by about 16,000 votes -- and thus the decisive state by 537 votes.

In 2008, it was Democrats who led by 12,000 registered voters, allowing Barack Obama to win the county by 38,000 -- making up nearly a fifth of his statewide margin.

"Which way Pinellas goes, Florida goes," said Michael Guju, the former chair of the Pinellas County Republican Party.

Guju is a former chair of the Pinellas GOP, and downplays the new and narrow Democratic edge, pointing out that the percentage of unaffiliated voters has grown, from 20.6 percent in 2000 to 28.4 today.

"The next two, three weeks, until the election, are crucial. This is where campaigns are made or broken," said Guju. "They have to energize their votes, they have to get them out to vote."

In that department, Democrats have a 2.5-percentage lead in mail ballots that have been returned so far.

The question may well be how unaffiliated voters cast their ballots.  So far they account for 20 percent of those returned in Pinellas County.

"I am always optimistic," said Stagnitta. "That is the way to look at things."

Statewide, the number of Democrats to mail in ballots so far just barely eclipses the number of Republicans, 210,734 to 210,707.

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