By Jack King: CNJ staff writer
A 9th Judicial District Attorney’s race between two Republicans may be responsible for giving Curry County a majority of registered Republican voters for the first time in its history, according to officials with the Curry County Clerk’s office.
Deputy County Clerk Coni Jo Lyman said, as of Tuesday, there were 636 more registered Republicans than Democrats in the county. County Clerk Mario Trujillo said this is the first time the county has had a Republican majority.
Lyman said Republican registrations began to pull ahead of Democrats in March.
“We had 8,369 Democrats to 8,062 Republicans on Sept. 18, 2003, just prior to the governor’s special election on education issues. By March 2004, we had 8,276 Democrats to 8,521 Republicans,” she said.
In Roosevelt County, County Clerk Joyce Lee Fraze said she has seen 22 voters change their party affiliation from Democrat to Republican so they can vote on key positions during June primaries.
Lyman said the switch in registration seems to have begun after the weekend of Feb. 6-8, when former Assistant D.A. Matt Chandler was fired by incumbent 9th Judicial District Attorney Brett Carter and announced his candidacy for the post.
“The firing was on a Friday and the next Monday it was a mad house. That’s when the Republican party really gained their momentum,” she said.
She said she has been told some Democrats are changing party registration to vote in the one party race.
“Some have said ‘It’s time. I’ve been thinking Republican for a while now and I’m not happy with Kerry as a candidate. But most say it’s for the DA’s race. I think after the primary we may see some change back,” she said.
Two voters who, according to county clerk’s records, have recently become Republicans, said Tuesday they registered with the party to support Chandler in the June 1 primary.
“I switched strictly to vote for Matt Chandler and I plan to switch back after the primary,” said Jacob Moberly.
“My father and grandfather were Democrats. I can see the graveyard from where I live and I said the day I registered I was afraid I’d find my grandfather waiting for me when I got back home,” he said.
Thelma Coffey said she doesn’t think of herself as either a Democrat or Republican.
“I didn’t realize I was registered as a Democrat, but you can’t vote in the Republican primary unless you’re registered as a Republican and I’m a very strong supporter of Matt Chandler,” she said.
Both Chandler and Carter said they have launched campaigns to sign up new Republicans for the primary. Chandler said he has registered approximately 380 voters in Curry and Roosevelt counties. Carter said he has registered about 100.
Carter said Chandler’s family used to be Democrats and that Chandler probably has asked many long-time Curry County Democrats to switch parties for the primary. He added that Chandler also has been asking members of his Eastern New Mexico University fraternity, Kappa Sigma, to register for the primary.
Chandler said his father, Caleb Chandler, is a former Clovis police chief, a long-time state senator and former magistrate judge, who changed his registration to Republican in 1999. But he denied that he has concentrated on asking old-line Democrats to switch parties.
“The main reason people are switching was not a history as Democrats. It was because they’re concerned about their safety and the rise in crime,” he said.
He said his old Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers have graduated from ENMU and are now spread all over the country.
Eric Smith, Kappa Sigma’s ENMU president, said Chandler did come to the university’s campus to register students, some of whom were Kappa Sigma members. But Chandler only spoke informally with individual fraternity members to ask for their vote, as did Carter’s brother, Wade Carter, also a Kappa Sigma member, Smith said.