Central Valley

Valley voters follows state, nation

Republican voters in the central San Joaquin Valley appeared to be following the state and the nation Tuesday in backing Arizona Sen. John McCain for the party's presidential nomination.

McCain was leading in all four congressional districts that touch on the Valley. If his leads hold, this will give him 12 delegates -- three per district -- in his quest for the nomination. McCain was also projected to win California, as well as seven other states across the nation.

A majority of Valley Democrats also were following the state in early returns, backing New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. But Democrats award delegates on a proportional basis in each of the state's 53 congressional districts.

So, while Clinton led in all four local congressional districts, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama will get his share of delegates as the two front-runners find themselves in a pitched battle for the Democratic nomination.

"The Valley is very loyal to those that are loyal to them," said former Assembly Member Sarah Reyes, a Clinton supporter.

"She is the candidate who came. She listened. She met with local people."

By contrast, Obama never made a local appearance and did not set up his local campaign office until a week ago.

"You must recognize us as part of the state," said Reyes, who is now chief of staff to Assembly Member Juan Arambula, D-Fresno. "He didn't."

Fresno resident and former Secretary of State Bill Jones, who is McCain's state campaign chairman, said Valley Republicans responded to McCain because he knows the issues of importance here, many of which are the same in Arizona.

"The senator has worked very hard over a long period of time in California," Jones said. "He's been in the Central Valley several times and worked on issues of importance to the Central Valley."

McCain's strong showing locally disheartened conservatives who had backed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

"I think people went with a known quantity, despite conservative opposition to McCain," said Republican strategist Michael Der Manouel Jr., who switched to Romney last week after former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani pulled out of the race.

Visalia resident Jeff Neves, a Republican, expressed anxiety about the election.

"I'm really concerned about who could eventually become president," he said.

Neves voted for Romney because "I like his business sense and I think he's the most conservative candidate left in the race."

Still, in early returns, McCain and Clinton both had solid leads in the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st congressional districts, all of which cover parts of Fresno County and stretch south past Bakersfield and north of Stockton.

Some Democrat voters were torn between voting for Obama and Clinton.

Verna Williams, 47, said she was excited about this election but choosing between the two candidates wasn't easy. Williams, a Democrat, said either of them will make history and are good candidates.

"I voted for Obama. It was hard. ... Well, Hillary has already been at the White House. I think somebody new has to be there. Hillary ran the White House before, anyway," Williams said.

Yasuko Yamakawa, 48, of Fresno said she came out to vote because she's not satisfied with the current president. Yamakawa, a Democrat, voted at a precinct in the Tower District.

"I voted for Barack Obama. He has a good head on his shoulders. He's not just trying to please the people. I want change," Yamakawa said.

Besides leading in each of the four congressional districts, Clinton and McCain were also leading in each of the Valley's six counties -- Tulare, Kings, Fresno, Madera, Mariposa and Merced.

Obama's strongest county was Mariposa.

On the Republican side, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was running stronger in the South Valley.

Even some of those who lagged, such as Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who is seeking the Republican nomination, won some support.

Gabriel Welch said he probably wouldn't even be voting Tuesday if a friend hadn't gotten him enthused about Paul.

"Most of my friends don't vote, and I never gave much consideration to voting for president before," Welch said.

"This is the first time I've ever gotten excited about voting."