Central Valley

Central Valley voters true to party

Hillary Rodham Clinton trounced Barack Obama in Stanislaus County's February presidential primary. John McCain wooed just over a third of county voters, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney running close behind.

While some area voters may have their second-choice candidate on November's ballot, Democratic and Republican leaders believe most ultimately will stand behind their party's pick.

"We fight, everybody calls everybody names and, in the end, both parties get behind their candidates," said Sandra Lucas, a local Democratic activist.

Lucas was torn "to the last second" between Obama and Clinton, choosing Clinton as the best hope of bringing the presidency back into Democratic hands. But Lucas thinks Obama will energize younger voters eager for a change from the "old guard" of politics.

"I think what young people are seeing in Obama is a fresh face, he has new ideas, and he hasn't been painted by the years of scandal in Washington," she said.

McCain's vice presidential pick of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin helped boost his credentials among many local conservatives. Nearly one-third of county voters chose Romney on Feb. 5, and 17 percent picked former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

"Most of us were rooting for Romney," said Joan Clendenin, chairwoman of the Republican Party of Stanislaus County. "When (McCain) chose Palin, he signaled to the base that, 'I'm with you.' It sealed the deal."

Why pick the other guy?

In some cases, the pitch may be as simple as this: better your party's candidate -- even with his flaws -- than the other guy.

"There have been some things in the past that John McCain has done that I don't like," said county Supervisor Jim DeMartini, vice chairman of the Republican Party of Stanislaus County. "But there's nothing Barack Obama has done that I like at all."

Seven months ago, McCain and Obama had problems winning support in the region.McCain's conservative credentials were questioned, but he never gave up on the valley, visiting twice. He also has former California Secretary of State Bill Jones as his point man.

This, many Republicans believe, could help McCain where it counts -- in his campaign coffers. With California's electoral votes likely to go to Obama, they said the best way to help McCain win other battleground states is to donate to his campaign.

McCain tallied enough delegate support to capture the Republican nomination March 5. Since then, he has received donations of $200 or more from 53 people in Stanislaus County, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Of those, 16 people have given at least $1,000, and 11 have donated the maximum of $2,300.

(The Federal Election Commission records contributions of $200 or more from individuals. Contributions of less than $200 are not public record.)Obama still hasn't visited the region. Clinton held a Fresno rally in October and found favor among the region's Democrats, many of whom are conservative. She visited Fresno again last month at a United Farm Workers convention.Since June 4, when Obama captured the nomination, he has received donations of $200 or more from 19 people in Stanislaus County. Of those, three gave at least $1,000.

'Undecideds' are the target

Lucas believes one-time Clinton supporters will go to the polls for Obama, and said McCain's pick of Palin as a running mate has further energized Democratic women to stay true to their party.

"(Palin) stands for nothing that Hillary stands for," Lucas said, noting Clinton's support of abortion rights compared with Palin's opposition to abortion even in cases of rape or incest.

While party loyalties run strong, Republicans and Democrats will be scrapping for votes from the "undecideds" and independent voters across the country who may choose a president based more on personal connections.

"This election is really not about change, lipstick, or being elite," said Larry Giventer, a political science professor at California State University, Stanislaus.

"It's going to be about race, it's going to be about ethnicity, gender identity and generational identity."

And count on it being close, Giventer said.

"It's going to be an election like the year 2000," he said. "It's going to come down to a few hundred votes in a couple of states."

The Fresno Bee contributed to this report.