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Georgia voters turn out to support Huckabee, Obama
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Bandit, a local rat terrier, makes his presidential preference known outside the Gainesville Civic Center Tuesday. The dog was campaigning with his owner Diane Kyle. - photo by Tom Reed

ATLANTA — Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee earned victories in the Georgia presidential primary on Super Tuesday, a day that saw voters in 24 states nationwide go to the polls to try and settle two highly competitive party races for the White House.

Voter interest and turnout were high throughout the state and in Hall County, where 44.3 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

Charlotte Sosebee-Hunter, the county’s chief registrar and director of elections, said there were few problems reported at Hall’s 39 precincts.

As of Monday, 463 absentee ballots had been received of those that had been mailed out. In addition, she said, 3,014 people voted during the week of early voting.

Among those who turned out in strong numbers were younger voters energized by the close races in both parties.

"This was my first time to vote. I’m excited about this experience," said Janay Bailey, 20, who voted at Gainesville’s Community Services Center precinct. "A lot of people my age don’t come out and vote, and I think everybody should.

"They might not think it makes a difference now, but in the long run it will."

The tight races drew more than 1.5 million Georgia voters to the polls, a 44 percent turnout, breaking a 20-year-old record for the number of people who cast ballots in a presidential primary in the state.

Secretary of State Karen Handel said the contest may also mark the highest percent of voters who turned out in two decades. "We’re seeing very heavy turnout in just about every county," Handel said.

Among local races, Lumpkin County voters approved a liquor referendum to allow businesses outside Dahlonega to sell liquor by the drink for on-site consumption. In Jackson County, liquor and parks referendums both failed.

Forsyth County voters passed a referendum to expand the special purpose local option sales tax five years as well as a $100 million bond referendum to fund parks, recreation and greenspace.

With 84 percent of precincts reporting, Obama won 63 percent of Georgia’s vote to 34 percent for Clinton. On the Republican side, Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, won a tight race over Sen. John McCain, 35 percent to 32 percent. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was third at 30 percent.

The Georgia victory was one of a handful for Huckabee on Tuesday, putting him back in the nomination battle after a string of primary losses following his Iowa caucus win.

"The one way you can’t win a race is to quit it, and until somebody beats me, I’m going to answer the bell for every round of this fight," Huckabee said.

Georgia, with its stalwart base of religious voters, was a critical state for Huckabee. He also cast himself as the champion of the "Wal-Mart Republican" rather than the "Wall Street" wing of the party.

Six in 10 GOP voters on Tuesday were white evangelicals and born-again Christians. Huckabee won four in 10 of their votes, according to surveys of voters as they left the polls.

One of those was Jeff Spencer, a Baptist minister in rural Bryan County east of Savannah who said social issues were his top concern.

"Before Huckabee came up, there wasn’t a real conservative, Republican view in the race as far as the right wing goes," Spencer said.

Nationwide, McCain solidified his lead in the GOP race with wins in New Jersey, Illinois, California, Delaware, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arizona and Connecticut. Huckabee also won Alabama, Arkansas and West Virginia; Romney took Massachusetts, Utah, Colorado and North Dakota.

Among the Democrats, Obama won his home state of Illinois along with Alabama, Delaware, North Dakota, Connecticut, Colorado, Utah and Kansas. Clinton won New York, New Jersey, California, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Arkansas.

Georgia marked Obama’s second straight Southern triumph, and like an earlier victory in South Carolina, was built on a wave of black votes. The 87 delegates at stake in Georgia’s primary were to be divided between the two candidates in rough proportion to the votes.

Black voters make up about half of the Democratic primary vote in Georgia and surveys of people as they left polling places showed they lined up overwhelmingly behind Obama, an Illinois senator seeking to become the nation’s first black president.

"I didn’t want to vote for Obama just because he was black," said Jacqueline Jenkins, 42, an administrative assistant and part-time college student who voted outside Albany. "I didn’t want to vote for Hillary just because she’s a woman. I think both bring a lot to the table. I just think Obama would be a better choice."

The election was the first statewide in which Georgia required a photo identification of all voters casting their ballots in person. Some sporadic problems were reported, in part because people could not wait out delays caused by the ID checks before they had to head to work.

State officials said staffers were working to fix "isolated" problems. A campaign watchdog group said some computers being used to verify voter identifications as part of a new state law had crashed earlier in the day.

"In a presidential election year with highly contested nomination races on both parties, lines are a function of the popularity of the contest," said Matt Carrothers, a state elections spokesman.

With more than 80 percent of the state’s precincts reporting, nearly 1.6 million ballots had been tallied.

Tuesday’s vote total surpassed the 1988 presidential primary, when about 40 percent of the voters turned out.

State elections officials said 247,897 people voted early, either by casting absentee ballots or advance voting. In 2004, a year when only the Democratic nomination was up for grabs, the combined total was 48,411.

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