County votes for McCain, Obama
Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 12:25 a.m.
Alachua County Republicans backed Sen. John McCain by a 6 percent margin in Tuesday's presidential primary, while local Democrats bucked the statewide trend and chose Sen. Barack Obama over his chief Democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton.
McCain, the Arizona senator who won the Florida primary, took 34 percent of the Alachua County vote. He was trailed by Mitt Romney, the ex-Massachusetts governor, who garnered 28 percent of the vote locally. Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who staked his campaign on winning Florida, had a poor showing in Alachua County - as he did across the state. Giuliani took just 9 percent of the Alachua County vote, and he was eclipsed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who garnered 22 percent.
Stafford Jones, chairman of the Alachua County Republican Party, said he wasn't surprised to see McCain do well.
"I expected McCain to win Alachua County," said Jones, who is not publicly endorsing any candidates until the Republican nominee is chosen. "There are a lot of independent-minded Republicans in Alachua County, and I don't have a problem with that. As long as they went and voted, I think that's great."
Obama, an Illinois senator who lost by a considerable margin statewide, beat Clinton handily in Alachua County. He took 46 percent of the vote, compared to the New York senator's 35 percent. Trailing both candidates was ex-North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who had 16 percent of the local vote.
In a university community, with a strong presence of young voters Obama has come to rely upon, it's not surprising the candidate did better in Alachua County than he did across the state, according to Daniel Smith, interim director of the political campaigning program at UF. The move toward Obama in a more liberal county like Alachua may also be a harbinger of tough times ahead for Clinton, he added.
"Alachua County is left-leaning among the Democrats, and that Clinton only pulled one out of three suggests that either her message isn't getting through or that Democrats want a change in kind of liberal places such as Alachua County," he said.
In the 2004 presidential election, Alachua County voters sided decidedly with the Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. Kerry took 56 percent of the vote, compared to Bush's 43 percent.
Tuesday's contest was viewed by many as a strictly Republican primary, because no delegates appeared to be at stake for Democrats. That's because the Democratic National Committee has said it will strip the party of all its Florida delegates - a punishment for the state moving its primary earlier in the year in violation of party rules. Clinton, however, is still fighting to have those delegates seated, and they could prove crucial in a primary contest that is now focused on who wins delegates - not just who wins states.
Under party rules, Democratic candidates didn't campaign vigorously in Florida. Lynda Lee Kaid, a faculty member in UF's political campaigning program, said she thinks Gainesville would have been on the Democrats' list of stops if not for the delegate-stripping controversy.
"I think they would have seen (the county) as an area they could garner support and get quite a bit of traction," she said. "I think they would have thought this was a valuable area to generate enthusiasm in."
In a rare move for university presidents, University of Florida President Bernie Machen publicly endorsed McCain. Smith, an associate professor of political science, said he thought Machen's endorsement had little impact on local voters.
"I really don't think Machen's endorsement had any affect in Alachua County," he said. "People look to Machen for leadership on UF governance issues. Voters do not look to university presidents for political endorsements unless they've served in a political capacity. It really doesn't carry any weight."
Machen declined to comment for this story.
UF students also got involved in the race. After Clinton's victory Tuesday night, UF's Gators for Hillary Club celebrated at a local pizza joint.
"We're very excited," said Becca Guerra, who co-chairs the campus Clinton club. "We knew she could do it."
Jack Stripling can be reached at 352-374-5064 or Jack.Stripling@gvillesun.com.
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