Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Clinton-Obama Count Continues
By Jeff Jones and Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writers
Fewer than 120 votes separated Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in New Mexico's Democratic presidential caucus early this morning and the race will be decided by thousands of provisional ballots being tallied beginning today.
Clinton had 65,845 votes to Obama's 65,728 votes with complete but unofficial results from 31 counties and incomplete tallies from two counties at 1 a.m. today.
The totals did not include more than 16,000 provisional ballots that state Democratic Party workers will begin going through one at a time today.
Provisional ballots are ballots given to people who did not vote at their designated caucus sites and whose names could not be located on polling rolls in the Democratic Party-run presidential caucus.
Clinton won most of the counties, but Obama took Santa Fe County by a large margin and won Bernalillo County.
The vote count came slowly in part because the turnout took party officials by surprise.
About 50 Clinton supporters gathered at the Garduño's on the Green near Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque on Tuesday, but the party ended without a winner.
Lt. Gov. Diane Denish decided to leave around 11:15 p.m., predicting that the results were "going to trickle in."
"I'm heartened by the fact she's done well in the smaller areas," said Denish, chairwoman of Clinton's New Mexico campaign.
The Obama party at the Santa Fe Hilton broke up about 10:30 p.m. It wasn't because of the delay in vote totals; it was because the campaign had to return rented audiovisual equipment it was using to show results on a big screen.
"It's a good night for Sen. Obama," Rep. Al Park of Albuquerque said, nonetheless.
There were still voters in line in some polling places at 9 p.m. in New Mexico's Democratic presidential caucus two hours after the polls were to close and vote counts were just beginning to trickle in at 10 p.m.
Seven candidates were on the New Mexico Democratic ballot, but only Clinton and Obama were still in the running. Gov. Bill Richardson, who dropped his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination on Jan. 10, had 502 votes in the incomplete, unofficial count.
While the vote totals weren't all in, exit polling for The Associated Press showed New Mexico Democrats split along racial and ethnic lines, with Hispanics strongly favoring Clinton and Obama leading among white voters.
Obama had a 3-to-1 lead among those looking for a candidate who could bring about change. Clinton was the choice of almost nine in 10 voters who said the candidate's experience mattered most.
Only New Mexico Democrats voted Tuesday. Republicans will vote on their presidential nominee in the state's regular primary election June 3, when Democrats will also vote on the rest of their primary election ballot.
State Democratic Party Chairman Brian Colón said the party was overwhelmed with its voter turnout Tuesday.
Although he had earlier predicted a turnout of 30,000 to 40,000, he said the party prepared "to have 150,000 people participate in this caucus and it appears we might have exceeded that."
If 150,000 ballots were cast, it would be a 50 percent increase from the party's 2004 Democratic presidential caucus, when 104,000 votes were cast.
All across the state Tuesday, Democrats braved snow, cold and long lines to vote.
The state Democratic Party, which ran what was called the presidential preference caucus, consolidated many precincts into single voting sites.
For Faizel Kassam, waiting to vote at the New Mexico Activities Association building in Albuquerque, it was new and exciting.
"I just became a U.S. citizen in September, and one of the reasons why is to vote," Kassam said.
Kassam, born in Canada but raised in the U.S., said it was Obama who spurred him to participate in American politics.
"I just wanted a change from Clintonomics and also Bushonomics, and I just think the two dynasties, they've had their fair share of time to run this government and I think there should be somebody new in the house."
Jurgen Homann, who was voting at Lowell Elementary in southeast Albuquerque just as polls closed, said he cast his ballot for Clinton.
"She impresses me as a person who is experienced as well as having the right priorities," Homann said. "She is probably the one who has advocated mostly for children."
Even those who suffered long waits remained upbeat about the importance of the process.
"It's obvious that it's very important for people," said Kathrine McMillen, who was one of the very last to cast her vote about 9 p.m. at Rio Rancho High School.
Mary Ellen Broderick, caucus site manager at Sombra del Monte Elementary School in Albuquerque, said that site had been "swamped" since opening at noon.
"Democracy is working," Broderick said. "I think finally people are waking up."
The Democrats-only caucus wasn't winner-take-all, and all either candidate needed to start racking up delegates was 15 percent of the vote.
Results from the 184 Democratic caucus sites around New Mexico will determine who the state's 26 pledged delegates vote for at the party's nominating convention in Denver.
New Mexico has another 12 unpledged delegates, party bigwigs who can vote for whichever candidate they want to at the convention in late August.
Journal Staff Writers Charles D. Brunt, Trip Jennings, Jeremy Hunt and Hailey Heinz contributed to this report.