By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
More residents are expected to vote in Bell County this year than ever before.
Bell County Tax Assessor/Collector Sharon Long said about 160,000 people will be registered to vote for this election by the time early voting starts Oct. 20. Compare that to a little more than 150,000 in the last presidential election.
Bell County Election Clerk Jana Henderson said her office has received more than 10,000 requests for absentee ballots.
"I think it's going to be a phenomenal turnout," Henderson said. "To figure out the number of ballots to order this year, we picked the number of people who voted in the primary and doubled it. That's going to be on the high end, but I think we really made the right decision."
Right now, the candidates for House District 55 are preparing for that final push, trying to figure out not only who is voting this year, but what message to send and how best to get that message to voters.
Democrat Sam Murphey's first television ad begins airing on local stations Tuesday. The campaign has spent more than $100,000 on the TV spots, which will run for the next three weeks.
Folks inside Republican Ralph Sheffield's camp are interested in what exactly that message will be, especially since Murphey himself said name recognition was a weakness of his coming out of the primary.
"We've done some polling," Murphey said. "The polling suggested to us (a need to) raise the name ID, and that is strong now. The rest of the campaign is starting next week. I have the money I need to complete my program. I'll be able to run a positive, thorough, multimedia (campaign)."
Both candidates believe older voters are a more consistent voting bloc. They both said that consistency is key, both in message and content.
"I feel like, number one, I'm winning the ground war," Sheffield said Thursday. "I'm not just sending people out there. I'm personally knocking on a lot of doors. ... This district is so strong Republican, I think people go to the polls (for) who can best represent them on their values and views."
Sheffield feels he has the edge. Though his campaign has less cash on hand as of the most recent filing period, Sheffield said he's continued on the path that got him where he is today. He added that he's not worried about the presidential election affecting his numbers.
Sheffield said Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama's influence won't be felt in Bell County since he's not a strong supporter of the military. Sheffield added that he's knocked on doors of many residents who voted Democrat in the primary who told him they voted that way because they didn't want Hillary Clinton to be the nominee.
Sheffield's political strategist, Ted Delisi, said the polling indicates that people are worried, and more than usual.
"We're going to see robust turnout in a variety of subgroups," Delisi said. "Candidates frame themselves as an agent of change, even in an atmosphere in a philosophically conservative (area). ... I don't buy into the idea that Obama is going to do things with the youth vote and other campaigns can't."
Delisi added that the poll shows high interest across the board.
"You usually ask people two big questions in a poll: Is the country on the right track or wrong track, and are you interested in voting?'" Delisi said. "There is a higher than normal interest in voting, and more people believe that the country is in trouble.
"But (Republican presidential nominee Sen. John) McCain has avoided that for the most part. ... More Republicans this year are interested in voting. There is a high degree in intensity in voting this year."
Murphey believes in the end, it's the issues that will bring voters to the polls.
"Everyone is interested in the economy, but there is not a lot of play in that for the statehouse," Murphey said.
"Bell County is pretty interesting. There's an older demographic in the eastern side of the county – very tuned in to the market; they want money to visit grandkids, buy Christmas presents. ... I get a sense there is a real desire for change in this county."
Contact Justin Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568.