July 28 2010 12:00 AM

Less than 10 years ago Eaton County’s state representative was a gun-toting conservative Republican whose claim to fame was creating a short-lived Michigan dove hunting season.

Today, the 71st District is one of only a few places in the state Democrats could realistically pick up a House seat. The average Democratic base in the 2004, 2006 and 2008 election was 49 percent.

Whether it’s the so-called "Democratic Tsunami" of 2006, the Barack Obama Wave of Change in 2008 or voter-rich Delta Township/Grand Ledge’s changing demographics, Democrats see hope in this Eaton County seat. The county Board of Commissioners, for the first time in eons, has a Dem majority, after all.

It’s a notable change for TE Enterprises Manager Mark Eagle, the only Democrat to step forward in ’08 to challenge now-term limited Rep. Rick Jones. Eagle managed 42 percent in ’08, but sees a bigger opportunity in ’10 now that the seat is open. The problem: There are nine candidates — four Republicans and five Democrats — seeking the seat.

The Democratic field consists of Eagle, 24, a former member of the Michigan Commission for the Blind; Grand Ledge school social worker Theresa Abed, a county commissioner; former Michigan State Police academic specialist Fred Fry, 63; public relations professional Bob Robinson, 52; and high school teacher Justin Heany, 31.

On the Republican side, the four candidates are Cheryl Krapf Haddock, 45, executive director of the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Eaton County; former Jones legislative aide Laurie Raines, 48; former Charlotte Mayor Deb Shaughnessy, 49; and Jersey Giant franchise owner Britt Slocum, 47.

Fry made headlines earlier this election cycle by proposing that all nine candidates sign a "clean campaign pledge," which all candidates eventually signed.

Robinson, a Vermontville Democrat, said he’s hearing a lot of people asking him if he’s an incumbent. When he says no, they open their doors. When he gets in, he tells them he is a first-time officeseeker running on "green jobs" and the "bio-economy."

Heany argues on his Website that the problem is that "government has failed us" by eroding the state’s public safety system and its roads to help "the special interests and the rich elite."

Abed, a school social worker for the last 30 years, said she brings to the state House job the experience of being in three different school districts. "We need to look at all ways to properly funding education."

On the GOP side, Shaughnessy, who was chief of staff for former Rep. Susan Tabor, is seen as the establishment candidate who has endorsements of former U.S. Rep. Nick Smith, state Sen. Patty Birkholz and former Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus.

Slocum, a small business owner in Delta Township and vice chairman of the Waverly School Board, said he’s seen first-hand the impact of the new Michigan Business Tax and he’s promoting fixing the tax structure with a more "streamlined, cleaner" product.

Haddock is a first-time candidate who jumped into the race after segments of the Michigan Republican Party, unsatisfied with the field, recruited her to run.

Jones endorsed Haddock because she’s a "clean campaigner" who "walks the walk” in her field as a passionate advocate for children.

Jones is supporting Haddock even though Raines, a former staffer, is also in the race. The wife of the Eaton County sheriff, Raines said she has experience working with Eaton County as a legislative aide and a Sheriff’s Office corrections clerk. Raines has been a teacher and accountant.