Obama overwhelmingly wins Clayton

By Daniel Silliman and Curt Yeomans

dsilliman@news-daily.com and cyeomans@news-daily.com

Barack Obama took off and never looked back in Clayton County on Tuesday. With 51 of the county's 60 precincts reporting, the Illinois Senator and Democratic presidential contender had about 83 percent of the vote.

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Senator from New York, who has touted her experience and ability to be "ready from day one," if elected, attracted only 16 percent of the vote.

Of the 37,154 votes counted by 11:30 p.m., Tuesday night, more than 26,000 were cast for Obama.

Clayton County voters interviewed by the Clayton News Daily said they supported Obama because of his opposition to the war in Iraq, his bipartisanship and his youth.

"He has young ideas," said Timothy Chappel, a building engineer from Jonesboro. "I think they need more young minds running the country."

Monica Davila, a full-time student at Clayton State University, said Obama's youth means he's able to look past petty partisan politics.

"I'm concerned with the war and the bipartisanship in the government," Davila said. "I'm voting for Obama ... because I like the way he speaks about being one nation. Right now, we're not getting anything done, because everybody is sticking with their party."

Obama rose to national attention while speaking at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. The then-recently elected senator captured the public's attention with a speech about overcoming the country's divisions.

"There is not a liberal America and a conservative America," Obama said, "there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America -- there's the United States of America."

Mia Wise, casting a vote for Obama on Tuesday, four years after that speech, said he represented a "complete turn-around, as far as leadership."

On the Republican side of the county's primary election, former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister, Mike Huckabee, took a modest, early lead and maintained it throughout the night. With 51 of the county's 60 precincts reporting, Huckabee had 38 percent of the Republican vote. At 11:30 p.m., former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had 29 percent of the 5,561 Republicans voting, and Arizona Senator and former Vietnam prisoner of war, John McCain, had 27 percent.

Michael Onyemenam, a Republican who is running for the county commission chairmanship, said Huckabee's win in Clayton County shows local Republicans want to see a president who will strengthen the nation's borders, create jobs, reduce the federal deficit, and bring the war in Iraq to a "conclusion."

Onyemenam, who calls himself a "grassroots supporter" of Huckabee, said the former governor of Arkansas' experience at leading a state government makes him the ideal candidate for president. He also believes the experience factor would help Huckabee, if he captured the Republican nomination and had to face Obama in the general election.

"He's well tested to be commander and chief," Onyemenam said. "He's also an outsider who will come [to Washington D.C.] to clean house."

Turnout was steady throughout the day, according to election officials. Some polling places saw lines of people waiting to vote more than 45 minutes before the polls even opened. In a historically competitive primary -- where the race remained wide open in both parties going into Super Tuesday -- the number of registered voters in the county was significantly up. A record 131,292 voters were registered in Clayton County at the beginning of the year.

Looking at the large number of Democrats at the polls, Clayton County Democratic Party Chair Kevin Thomas said Tuesday was, "a very good day for Democrats in Clayton County."

Looking at the high turnout and the overwhelming win for Obama, local Democratic officials said he won in the county because he energized voters.

"I have never seen so much energy being kindled in people," said Evelyn Wynn-Dixon, Democratic mayor of Riverdale. "I'm just elated at the fact that people are re-energized."

Election officials started counting the ballots at about 7:40 p.m. The first results were posted on the Clayton County elections department's web site an hour later, and Obama immediately jumped out into a commanding lead with 81 percent of the Democratic vote. Clinton followed distantly behind, with 17 percent.

By 9:45 p.m., Obama led by a very wide margin, with four times more people voting for the Illinois senator than for all the Republican candidates put together. Obama had earned 6,938 votes, at 9:45 p.m., and Clinton carried 1,539 votes.

CNN and the Associated Press called the state for Obama about five minutes after voting ended, basing the prediction on exit polls.

Statewide, with 86 percent of precincts reporting, Obama had pulled down 65 percent of the Democratic vote and Clinton had earned 33 percent. Huckabee had 34 percent of the Republican vote, with McCain coming in second with 31 percent and Romney with 30 percent.