President Barack Obama may have claimed a second victory in the Sunshine State, but he fared worse this election in the conservative retiree sanctuary.
Obama received about 31 percent of the votes in last month's election. That's a 4-percentage-point drop from his showing in 2008, when he ran against U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
GOP nominee Mitt Romney managed to do better in the booming community that straddles Lake, Marion and Sumter counties than McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, who excited Villagers and drew a giant crowd at a rally there four years ago.
Romney and his vice-presidential nominee, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R.-Wis., claimed about 69 percent of the vote compared to 65 percent for the McCain-Palin ticket.
Rich Cole, chairman of the Sumter County Republican Executive Committee, attributed the spike in support for Romney to the development's rapid growth, which has helped the party gain more ground. The surge has brought in thousands of new residents, and the majority are registered Republican, he explained.
"It's a solid Republican area. And it continues to grow," said Cole, 69, who's lived in the retirement community for eight years. "You have to just look at the last four years of registered [voter] changes."
According to numbers from the three counties' election offices, 13,000 more people cast ballots in this election than in 2008. Republicans outnumber Democrats by 2-to-1 in "America's Friendliest Hometown," where emotions were heightened this past presidential election. Some activists on both sides hurled insults at one another, creating a tense political atmosphere.
Cole, who also heads The Villages Republican Club of Sumter County, expects the party will continue to grow as The Villages continues to swell.
The club, one of many, added more than 100 members in the last few years, he said. It now boasts more than 500 members, including many voters who registered with no party affiliation. Independent voters can make a significant impact in an election and likely helped boost Romney's numbers, Cole argued.
"They're very important," he said. "There are over 10,000 independents registered alone in Sumter County."
Even though Democrats lost ground in the Obama-Romney race, The Villages Democratic Club has added more than 800 members the last four years, bringing the total to 1,000, said Joe Flynn, former club director who oversees event planning.
"People are finally realizing there are Democrats in The Villages and that we're a very active group," Flynn said.
During the election, he said, the group received attention from local, national and international media interested in what it was for them living in a die-hard Republican community. He said he expects such exposure will encourage more left-leaning voters to move to the area.
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