Voters Turn Out a Week Early

By: BOB LEWIS - AP Political Writer
By: BOB LEWIS - AP Political Writer

A week early, Virginia voters turned out Tuesday at polling places across the state, mistakenly believing Virginia was among the 24 states holding Super Tuesday nominating contests.

More than 700 callers swamped the State Board of Elections offices, most of them demanding to know why their polling places were closed, said spokeswoman Susan Pollard.

Candidates in both parties awaited the outcome of the largest one-day primary in U.S. history to finalize their campaign plans for the week leading to the February 12 primaries in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Democrat Hillary Clinton on Tuesday announced plans to campaign in the populous, Democratic-leaning Washington suburbs and to attend the state Democratic Party's annual fundraising gala Saturday in Richmond.

For her rival, Barack Obama, high-profile endorsements continued to roll in. The mayors of Roanoke, Norfolk, Alexandria and Charlottesville announced their support for the Illinois senator in a conference call, saying he held the best hope for helping fiscally stressed local governments deal with unfunded federal mandates.

"So many of the nation's problems are having to be addressed at the local level in the absence of federal leadership," said Roanoke Mayor Nelson Harris.

"It's literally sinful that we keep on going down this road," added Mayor Bill Euille of Alexandria, citing what he said was a lack of support for local governments in President Bush's newly released budget.

"This president is saying, `By the way, I need another $70 billion for Iraq.' But when we mayors say we need more money for education or transportation or public housing, they can't come up with it."

Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, a former governor, endorsed Obama a month ago, and Governor Timothy M. Kaine endorsed Obama nearly a year ago.

In Virginia, signs point to an unusually large primary turnout. Besides hundreds of people showing up prematurely at their precincts Tuesday, new voter registrations spiked sharply the first two weeks of the year, particularly among young voters, SBE figures show.

Of the 37,025 Virginians who met the January 14 deadline for registering in time to vote in next week's primary, 22,518, or almost 61 percent, were younger than 25.

Virginia Commonwealth University political science professor Robert D. Holsworth said it's driven by interest in the Democratic field, particularly the excitement Obama has generated among young voters.

But the numbers also hold promise for the former first lady, who has a strong following among women: 54 percent of the first-time registrants 24 and younger were female.

"So many people thought Virginia had moved itself out of position to be influential in the outcome of this primary, but we see now that the nomination, particularly on the Democratic side, is not likely to be settled tonight," Holsworth said Tuesday.

Unlike the Republican primary, in which the winner takes all of the state's delegates, the Democrats apportion their delegates according to a complicated formula based on statewide and congressional district returns.

Clinton strategists sense particular traction for her in the 7th, 10th and 11th congressional districts, all of which are in northern Virginia or adjoin it. Her advisers also expect the campaign to be competitive in the Roanoke media market.

Obama expects to compete strongly in northern Virginia and particularly in the urban areas of Richmond and Hampton Roads, regions where black voters are most formidable.


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