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Archive for Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Across the nation, voters excited

February 6, 2008

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She had a 13-hour window to vote in the Arizona presidential primary, but Mona Reese decided she couldn't wait. She didn't even brush her teeth or change out of her pajamas before leaving home.

She found herself in line before dawn at the fellowship hall of a Methodist church in Phoenix, excitedly waiting to cast a ballot for Sen. Barack Obama. Later she clutched her "I Voted Today" sticker as if it were a winning lottery ticket.

"I literally just woke up," she said, apologizing for tousled hair and a makeup-free face. "I'm so sorry. It's that important. To wake up at 5:45 in the morning to get down here and vote."

The enthusiasm was not uncommon on a day like no other in American politics, a scramble of primaries and caucuses that went coast-to-coast - and beyond, to the South Pacific island of American Samoa.

This Tuesday was more than Super. It was a day in which more people than ever before had a say in who would be left standing to wage the long campaign for the presidency.

And it produced democracy in some of its most dramatic forms.

In Alaska, battered by some of the most brutal cold of the winter, voters trudged through a foot of new snow in some places to get to caucuses at convention centers, middle schools, a radio station - and at least one Chinese restaurant.

In lower Manhattan, voters in the New York primary elbowed their way past euphoric New York Giants fans, through tons of fluttering confetti, to get to polling places close to the Super Bowl victory parade.

In Virginia, voters were so eager they turned up at polling places across the state and deluged the Board of Elections with phone calls - and the Virginia primary isn't for another week.

In Florida, election officials across the state fielded hundreds of phone calls from confused voters asking where they could vote Tuesday, apparently unaware that Florida's presidential primary was last week.

It was the apex - so far - of an election season in which unusually wide-open party races, markedly increased voter interest, and the most diverse set of finalists ever have all converged.

Or in the words of Jessica Pomey, a 29-year-old Obama voter from Oakland, Calif.: "Politics used to be something you didn't talk about. Now it's everywhere, in hair salons, everywhere. It's part of the conversation."

The geographic scale was unprecedented for a primary season - and, in a way, bigger than most general elections, which are fought mostly in a few battleground states.

In what amounted to a national primary - or maybe a national semifinal - 24 states held primaries or caucuses, the Republicans with 1,023 delegates at stake in 21 contests and the Democrats with 1,681 at stake in 22, plus American Samoa.

And the candidates themselves made for a remarkable tableau: The last standing included a woman, a black man, a Mormon, a one-time prisoner of war and a Baptist minister.

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