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Keeping conservative
Obama makes in-roads, but county's GOP roots deep
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Forsyth County News
By the numbers
A look at how Forsyth County has voted in the past eight presidential elections:

* 75,538 ballots cast
* 80.8 percent turnout
* Democrat Barack Obama: 15,383 votes, or 20 percent
* Republican John McCain: 59,123 votes, or 78 percent

* 54,464 ballots cast
* 72 percent turnout
* Democrat John Kerry: 8,763 votes, or 16 percent
* Republican George W. Bush: 45,207 votes, or 83 percent

* 37,078 ballots cast
* 74 percent turnout
* Democrat  Al Gore: 6,694 votes, or 18 percent
 *Republican George W. Bush: 27,769 votes, or 75 percent

* 23,639 ballots cast
* 68 percent turnout
* Democrat Bill Clinton: 5,957 votes, or 25 percent
* Republican Bob Dole: 15,013 votes, or 64 percent

* 17,593 ballots cast
* 82 percent turnout
* Democrat Bill Clinton: 4,936 votes, or 28 percent
* Republican George H.W. Bush: 8,652 votes, or 49 percent
* Independent Ross Perot: 3,453 votes, or 20 percent

* About 11,400 ballots cast
* 68 percent turnout
* Democrat Mike Dukakis: 2,347 votes, or 21 percent
* Republican George H.W. Bush: 7,947 votes, or 70 percent

* 9,116 ballots cast
* 75 percent turnout
* Democrat Walter Mondale: 2,275 votes, or 25 percent
* Republican Ronald Reagan: 6,841 votes, or 75 percent

* 8,600 ballots cast
* Exact percentage of county’s vote could not be determined, but FCN reports described it as a "record turnout."
* Democrat Jimmy Carter: 4,325 votes, or 50 percent
* Republican Ronald Reagan: 3,157 votes, or 37 percent

Note: Turnout based on total registered voters

Source: FCN archives

Forsyth County’s overwhelming support of John McCain over President-elect Barack Obama comes as little surprise for a conservative stronghold that has voted Republican for decades.

But some longtime residents recall a time, nearly 30 years ago, when Forsyth’s political blood ran blue.

“Just about everybody in the county was Democratic and ran on the Democratic ticket,” recalled Janis Thomas, a Democrat. “There were very few Republicans. They came later and just kind of sneaked in.”

Through many elections, Democratic candidates had the advantage. A Forsyth County News article from 1980 reported that three local races were likely the first Republican victories in more than 100 years.

The tide didn’t turn until 1984, when Democratic candidate Walter Mondale lost the county by a 50 percent margin to Republican incumbent Ronald Reagan, who tallied 75 percent of the county’s vote.

The result was a complete turnaround from the 1980 election, when Reagan received about 37 percent of the county’s vote against incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter, the former Georgia governor who lost his bid for re-election.

Republican Tommy Bagwell said he agreed with former state and national officeholder Zell Miller, who switched to the Republican Party after nearly three decades as a Democrat.

Miller, who most recently served as U.S. senator, said he didn't leave the party, it left him.

“That’s the way I felt and was so thrilled when Reagan came in,” said Bagwell, owner of American Proteins.

Bagwell said the last time he supported a Democrat was in 1976, when he voted for Carter. He has since become a big supporter of many Republican candidates.

“The main reason I have voted Republican ever since is not so much that I’m a strong Republican," Bagwell said. "It’s that, other than Bill Clinton, every single person they’ve nominated has been too far left.”

According to election results, just 20 percent of Forsyth voters threw their support to Obama, while more than 78 percent voted for McCain

Still, Obama fared better in the county than the previous two Democratic presidential candidates. In 2000, former Vice President Al Gore received 18 percent of Forsyth’s vote, while Sen. John Kerry received just 16 percent in 2004.

Since Carter took more than 50 percent of Forsyth’s vote in 1980, the closest another Democrat has come to winning a local majority was President Bill Clinton in 1992, with about 28 percent of Forsyth’s vote, in his national victory over incumbent George H. W. Bush.

Lifelong county resident Bobby Thomas, owner of Thomas Lumber Co., remembers the county’s 1980 shift to the Republican Party.

“I think the shift was more because of the people that were moving in, than the people that were already here,” he said. “They were a little more affluent, more business people and just the traditional Republican constituency.”

Many of the Forsyth natives still are Democrats,  he said, but they vote Republican as the platform better represents their mind-set.

“I think the old-time Forsyth County residents are more conservative by nature,” he said. “A lot of them vote Republican because there are very few local races that have a Democrat to vote for.

"But on a national level, even the old-time Democrats here, their political beliefs are probably more in line with the current Republican Party than the current Democratic Party.”

It wasn’t always that way, recalled Forsyth native Judi Jenkins. From the 1950s to the '70s, it was rare to find a Republican on the local ballot.

“The parties have changed. Their platforms have changed," she said. "I can’t tell you why because I don’t know, but I think people changed with the times and what their candidates stood for."

Jenkins recalled a time when major roads in Forsyth county were dirt and Tastee Freez and Dairy Queen were the main fast food options.

“Everybody knew each other,” she said. “Things have changed. A lot of people have changed. The makeup of the county has changed. You have a lot of people coming in from all over the U.S.

“Change is definitely good. You’ve just got to keep up with it.”