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Crist will headline Marion County Democrats' dinner

Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist will headline the Marion County Democratic Party's fifth annual "Proud to be a Democrat" fund-raising dinner on Sept. 8 at the Hilton in Ocala, as the calendar creeps toward October and his anticipated declaration as a Democratic candidate for governor in 2014.

Sally Smith of the Marion Democratic Party says about 200 tickets have been sold, and the ballroom's capacity is 340. The dinner will be preceded by a silent auction and cocktail hour. Tickets are $50.

Medium-sized Marion, bisected by Interstate 75 and home to Florida's vibrant thoroughbred horse industry, used to have a reputation as a bellwether county in statewide elections, but it has been very unfriendly to Democrats in recent cycles. It is solidly Republican by voter registration, and Crist, as a Republican, carried it by a slightly bigger margin against Democrat Jim Davis in 2006 than Scott did in 2010. Scott got about 57 per cent of the vote against Democrat Alex Sink in Marion.

Last year's keynote speaker at the county's big Democratic bash was Grace Nelson, wife of three-term U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who won Marion by about 1,000 votes last fall as he easily defeated Republican Connie Mack IV statewide.

-- Steve Bousquet