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McCain wins this time out

Posted: Sunday, February 10, 2008

Boy, did I get that prediction wrong.

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Nobody will turn out to vote in the Presidential Preference Primary, I thought. Voters, especially conservatives, are discouraged at the choices of candidates and will just stay home, I figured.

No more than a fifth of the voters would head to the polls, I guessed. And Elections Director Deborah Marshall's prediction of 30 percent turnout? Way too optimistic, I contended.

After the polls closed, it was pretty clear that both of our predictions were wrong - neither of them were optimistic enough.

The county's turnout matched the state-record 44 percent, up from 40 percent turnout in the previous record-setting primary. That compares to just 27 percent turnout in 2000 in Columbia County, the last time there was no incumbent president on the ballot.

Another big difference from that year, too: This time around, on the Republican side, John McCain won Columbia County.

When McCain was on that 2000 ballot, he received 3,212 votes to 8,999 votes for eventual winner George Bush.

This time around, McCain doubled that vote total and won Columbia County with 6,425 votes. He beat second-place finisher Mitt Romney by just a couple of percentage points en route to narrowly losing statewide to Mike Huckaby.

But here's an unusual twist: Romney won the highest number of precincts in Columbia County - 19, including absentee ballots, compared to McCain's 16. He still lost the vote count, though, and on Thursday dropped out of the race altogether.

That might not matter. Some voters in Columbia County didn't seem to mind that the candidate of their choice had quit the race. Rudy Giuliani, Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo and Fred Thompson all received votes. Their names were still on the ballots even though they'd dropped out.

That also was the case on the Democratic ballot, where ex-candidates received votes. Among them was John Edwards, who pulled in 174 votes despite his departure.

Some of those votes might have been from loyalty; after all, Edwards won Columbia County's Democratic vote in 2004, though his overall loss to John Kerry in Georgia caused him to drop out of the race.

The big winner in Columbia County, as mirrored in the overall Democratic vote in Georgia, was Barack Obama. He pulled in nearly 59 percent of the vote, compared to just under 39 percent for Hillary Clinton.

The precinct count was even more lopsided, with Clinton winning in just six. There doesn't seem to be any particular rhyme or reason to which ones, either: She received the most votes at the Kiokee Baptist, Harlem Middle School, Bessie Thomas Community Center, Damascus Baptist, Greenbrier High and Trinity Baptist precincts.

But how about this little oddity: Four of the six precincts Clinton won are also those that Huckabee won on the Republican side (Kiokee, Bessie Thomas, Greenbrier and Trinity). There does seem to be some sort of correlation, because Huckabee won just 12 precincts total. Could the two candidates' Arkansas backgrounds have anything to do with it?

And just so the conspiracy theorists don't feel left out: Ron Paul received 565 votes in Columbia County, less than 3 percent of the total votes cast in the Republican primary.

I consciously wasted my vote by casting it for Paul, who at least has some of the right ideas and a record of standing by them - even if his candidacy has attracted a scary assortment of nuts.

Even in his losing effort, Paul did much better in Columbia County than Democratic candidate Mike Gravel, who got barely a tenth of a percent of the Democratic vote - even less than three other candidates who had already quit.

(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal@newstimesonline.com, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106.)



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