Central Valley

Record turnout reported for Feb. 5 California primary

Californians headed to the polls in record numbers in February's presidential primary, with the highest percentage turnout in more than 25 years, according to a report from California Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

Attracted by tight races in the Democratic and Republican primaries, more than 9 million Californians voted in the Feb. 5 primary -- topping the previous primary record, set in 2000, by 1.2 million votes.

The final turnout represented 57.71 percent of registered voters statewide, the highest percentage in a primary since 1980, though still well below the all-time record of nearly 73 percent in 1976.

Tuolumne County voters topped the state average with 63.59 percent of registered voters turning out. The Northern San Joaquin Valley fell below the state's average with San Joaquin County at 53.69 percent, Stanislaus at 48.61 percent and Merced at 45.98 percent.

California played a pivotal role in choosing the Republican nominee.

A California delegate sweep by Sen. John McCain of Arizona served as a knockout blow to his chief rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Statewide, McCain won 42.3 percent of the vote to Romney's 34.6 percent.

Locally, McCain won over the majority of Northern San Joaquin Valley and Tuolumne County voters.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton won California with 51.5 percent to 43.2 percent for Sen. Barack Obama, the final tally shows.

While the two Democrats continue to battle for the Democratic nomination with a April 22 primary contest in Pennsylvania the next stop, Clinton was the clear choice among voters in the Northern San Joaquin Valley and Tuolumne County.

California Democrats far outnumbered Republicans at the polls, portending the uphill battle McCain faces in California in November. Of those voting in the primary, 55 percent were Democrats, nearly 34 percent were Republicans and 8 percent were decline-to-state voters.

"There's no question Republicans are worried about enthusiasm amongst their voters," said Rob Stutzman, a GOP strategist and former adviser to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The February contest was the first of three 2008 elections in California, with a June primary for legislative seats and November's general election to follow.