By Shane Goldmacher / Sacramento Bee
Californians headed to the polls in record numbers in February’s presidential primary, with the highest percentage turnout in more than 25 years, according to a report from California Secretary of State Debra Bowen.Attracted by tight races in both the Democratic and Republican primaries, more than 9 million Californians voted in the Feb. 5 primary – topping the previous primary record, set in 2000, by 1.2 million votes.
Jill LaVine, the Sacramento County registrar of voters, said she “could feel the voters coming in; they were excited about this one.” In her two decades as registrar, LaVine said, voter excitement for the 2008 primary was “right up there next to the governor’s recall” of 2003.The final turnout represented 57.71 percent of registered voters, the highest percentage in a primary since 1980, though still well below the all-time record of nearly 73 percent in 1976.
California played a pivotal role in choosing the Republican nominee.
A California delegate sweep by Sen. John McCain of Arizona served as a knockout blow to his chief rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Statewide, McCain won 42.3 percent of the vote to Romney’s 34.6 percent.
Locally, McCain won Sacramento, El Dorado, Yolo and Placer counties, though he won Placer by a mere nine votes.
On the Democratic side, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton won California with 51.5 percent to 43.2 percent for Sen. Barack Obama, the final tally shows.
The two Democrats, who continue to battle for the Democratic nomination with a April 22 primary contest in Pennsylvania the next stop, split the Sacramento region, with Obama carrying Sacramento and Yolo counties and Clinton winning El Dorado and Placer.
California Democrats far outnumbered Republicans at the polls, portending the uphill battle McCain faces in California in November. Of those voting in the primary, 55 percent were Democrats, nearly 34 percent were Republicans and 8 percent were decline-to-state voters.
“There’s no question Republicans are worried about enthusiasm amongst their voters,” said Rob Stutzman, a GOP strategist and former adviser to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The February contest was the first of three 2008 elections in California, with a June primary for legislative seats and November’s general election to follow. [For the original article, go here.]