Breaking Down the Vote

It was never really close.

The record-shattering and history-making turnout by Democrats in 2008 Presidential Primary last month was due to an early avalanche of Democratic votes, according to a Record analysis of ballot returns.

More ballots came in for Democratic candidates for president than their Republican counterparts in

11 of 13 days before and through the Feb. 19 primary, the analysis of the mail-in election shows.

A precinct-by-precinct review of the vote — as well as interviews with voters from all six voting regions on Whidbey and Camano islands — indicate the door-busting caucuses held 10 days before the election had little impact on voters’ choices for a presidential candidate. Most who voted for Democrats — 51 percent — cast their ballots before the caucuses. On the Republican side, 48 percent of voters cast ballots in the election prior to the county caucuses on Feb. 9.

County election workers finalized the vote last week and certified the results.

An examination of the official precinct-by-precinct vote revealed several interesting oddities.

Oak Harbor Precinct 105 was a double-double tie.

Obama and McCain got 21 votes each, while Clinton and Huckabee tied with 14 votes each.

Republicans won the turnout battle in the precinct, 46-39, and Ron Paul and Mitt Romney each got 10 percent of the Republican vote.

Clinton and Obama also tied the vote in Fort Nugent — with 45 votes each — though McCain won the precinct with 80 votes.

In Scenic Heights, the turnout was tied between Democrats and Republicans.

In some precincts, the Democrat candidate won the vote while the Republicans actually had a higher turnout. And in 17 precincts on Whidbey and Camano islands, both Obama and Clinton picked up more votes than McCain.

As part of its post-election analysis, The Record interviewed voters from precincts stretching from Cornet at the foot of Deception Pass Bridge on the north, across Oak Harbor and Central Whidbey, to the South End, as well as talking to voters in key swing precincts on Camano Island.

Many Republicans said they were not happy with having to vote for party front-runner John McCain, and said they were voting against the Democrats rather than a candidate they were excited about. Other Republicans admitted crossing sides to vote for Sen. Barack Obama, and said they would continue to cast votes for the popular senator from Illinois if he picks up the Democratic nomination for president.

Democrats interviewed by The Record said they were happy with their choices for the presidential race, and many said they knew early on how they would vote.

A new blue tide

In Island County, Republicans have easily overwhelmed the Democrats in the number of votes cast in prior presidential primaries.

This year, however, marked the first time in history that Democrats not only beat the Republicans in turnout, but also won traditionally right-leaning precincts on the north end of Whidbey. Democrats had the most votes in five precincts on North Whidbey, including four in-city districts in Oak Harbor.

In total votes, Obama won the presidential primary with 6,604 total votes and 55 percent of Democratic votes.

McCain collected 5,779 votes, and 55 percent of Republican votes cast in the primary.

There was a bit of settling out in the presidential primary.

Obama had won in a landslide against Clinton by amassing

68 percent of the caucus vote in Island County.

During the primary, his advantage over Clinton fell to 55 percent of the Democratic vote.

Red precincts shift

In the Ault Precinct, the expansive precinct just south of Ault Field at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, both Democratic candidates picked up more votes than any Republican on the ticket.

Lana Burton, a military veteran and longtime voter, said she was not surprised that Democrats had won Ault Precinct. Obama picked up

44 votes, Clinton had 43, and McCain, 38, in the primary.

“I know it’s a Republican stronghold here because of the military,” she said.

The war in Iraq, however, is sinking in, she said.

“The true sense of what has happened has changed a lot of people’s hearts, even in the military,” Burton said.

She added that her personal choice was easy: Clinton.

The former first lady was winning the precinct in early returns, but late votes pushed Obama in front at the end.

“McCain scares me; he’s a little bit hotheaded. I think politically we don’t need that anymore. I think we need somebody a little bit cooler,” she said.

The two most important issues that influenced her vote are the war and the economy. “And they’re kind of tied together anyway.”

An analysis of voting patterns from the presidential primary shows four peak times when voters returned their ballots.

Two high peaks were noted; during the first days after ballots were mailed out, and again on the day of the election and before.

Paula Helton said she waited before casting her ballot, but easily knew who would get her vote. McCain.

“We know what we like and what we stand for, and what we don’t,” she said. “Integrity and honesty are a big one for us. Whoever we think has that.

“Plus, we’re retired military. We back the military, and not to say the war is correct, but we do back our commander in chief,” she said.

She said she was well familiar with the Republican Party choice for president. “I knew who McCain was 20 years ago,” she said.

Looking for integrity

A number of Republicans said they weren’t impressed with anyone in the race, on either side.

In the Soundview Precinct, just south of Cornet, Joseph Higgins said the things that are important to him — fiscal responsibility, honesty, experience – made the vote a tough decision for him.

“Some of the candidates running are pretty much crooks. That would be Hillary. She’s had a sordid trail of things that have happened under her tutelage. There was filegate, the real estate deals, travelgate.”

“Obama, I consider him somebody who is in kindergarten. He has no vote that matters at all, in any direction. He hasn’t told us anything at all in the election beyond ‘change.’”

“I didn’t like my choice on the other side of the aisle,” Higgins added.

“McCain has done a lot of stupid things. This border thing. I’m a person who thinks this influx of people that are undocumdeted is a disaster for us financially. Security wise, it’s a tragedy.”

Higgins said his early favorite was Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who picked up 11 percent of the Republican vote in the precinct even though he had bowed out of the race almost two weeks earlier.

“I would have voted for him,” he said. “I want to say I will back McCain, but I will do it with a jaundiced eye.”

“I liked Romney best,” agreed Montee Walters, a voter in the Dugualla Precinct. “I liked Huckabee’s value set, but he’s largely unknown. McCain was just McCain.”

Walters said he has missed very few elections. He went to the caucus this time, but what he heard didn’t change his vote.

“Nobody was really exciting,” Walters said.

“My general impression of McCain is, he’s never done anything really well, but nothing’s ever killed him, but there he is.”

He said he did not like McCain’s easy ability to work with the other party.

“People who cross the aisle, people who do it as easily and as continually as he does, really don’t stand for anything.”

“I did eventually vote for McCain because I couldn’t vote for Romney and Huckabee couldn’t win,” Walters said.

Others on the north end also said they weren’t excited about the field of Republicans in the race.

“I’m not really happy with anybody who’s running,” said Curtis Betz of the Highland Precinct, where McCain won nearly twice as many votes as Obama.

Betz said he usually votes Republican, but switched for the first time to vote for Obama in the primary.

“I felt like McCain was going to win.

“I’m not happy with McCain,” Betz added. “He looks at the war as, it’s going well. Which I think is putting your head in the sand.”

There were other reasons, too.

“I believe also McCain is a hotheaded individual that it’s kind of, my way or the highway — which we already have with George Bush,” Betz said.

Betz, 44, said his newfound fondness for the Democrats in the presidential election does not run deep. Things may change by November. “I really don’t know what I’m going to do until I get to that point.”

“I would vote for Obama over McCain. I don’t know that I would vote for Hillary over McCain.”

Not the right candidate

A day trader, Betz said he has followed the campaigns closely. The television news is on every day from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. Though he knows McCain’s personal story well, it’s not enough.

“Yes, he has gone through a lot. But I think he’s pushed this thing a lot about being an ex-POW,” he said. “I feel that McCain is getting old and like I said, he’s very stubborn about things. And now he’s pro tax cuts whereas one time he was against the tax cuts.”

“I would love to see someone show up as an independent,” Betz said.

Despite any distaste for McCain, Mike Huckabee was a distant second place among Republican voters, with 21 percent of the GOP vote.

“I voted for Huckabee just because of the values that he had,” said Jim Kiesel of the Hillcrest Precinct.

“Romney is a very astute businessman and I would have rather had him than McCain because at least he has some morals,” Kiesel continued.

“I would really have someone other than McCain, but that’s what we have,” he said. “But again, we only can do what we’re going to do.”

Kiesel said there was no doubt that he would vote for his party’s candidate come November.

“You got to take the least of two evils. I will definitely be out and exercising my right to vote; it would be irresponsible of me not to.”

Some Republicans defended the GOP party frontrunner, however.

“I always liked McCain from the get-go,” said Bob Greathead of the Scenic Heights Precinct.

“He’s swinging to the liberal side, but McCain can be effective because he’s bipartisan. He’s going to get a lot of bipartisan support.”

Greathead said it would have been a tough choice between Romney and McCain if the former governor had still been in the race. It was in Scenic Heights where Romney got his greatest support, winning 27 percent of the vote. Island-wide, Romney finished with 16 percent of all GOP votes cast.

“I’ve liked McCain for years. When I looked at the issues, I started liking Romney,” he said.

He said his view of how things will shake out in November has changed.

“Now: very optimistic. A year ago: not optimistic.”

“I think there’s Republicans that will go to the polls not to vote for McCain but to vote against the Democrat. Especially if it’s Hillary.”

George Love, 62, also of Scenic Heights, said Romney was his second choice.

Love’s vote was based on values and issues.

“I went with what I thought my values were and that’s pretty much how it went,” he said.

“There’s a couple big issues, my biggest one is support of the military and my second one is, I’m a gun advocate, so I’m against any legislation that controls guns.

“And then my third big one: I hate Hillary.”

Party is just a word

The choice of candidates wasn’t the only thing that made some voters unhappy.

Normally an independent voter, Love said he was angry that he had to declare his party so he could vote.

James Riggles in the Silver Lake precinct voted Republican, but like many others, he said he, too, was unhappy he had to declare his party for his vote to count.

“Why do I have to select Republican or Democrat? I don’t think that’s right. I normally vote for the person, not the party,” he said.

Riggles voted for McCain, and pointed to the Arizona senator’s accomplishments in Congress.

“He’s got more integrity than the one on the other side,” he said.

Which other one was that? Riggles left no doubt. “Hillary don’t got no integrity, that’s for damn sure.”

“I’m a bit turned off by the primaries because of the way we have to pick and not choose who we want to. I’m just not real gung-ho about it,” said Nolan Noack, 58, a voter in the Coveland Precinct.

“I think basically our primary system is kind of a hoax, because they have caucuses and the primaries, and part of it counts and part of it doesn’t,” added Margaret Bodin of the Polnell Precinct.

“I think it’s basically a waste of taxpayers’ money. They need to do it one way or another and not spend so much money on it,” she said.

An Island County resident since 1936, she has voted in every election since the 1940s, and worked on the county election board for more than 40 years.

“I started in the election for Eisenhower’s second term and I worked until just a few years ago,” she said.

Fresh blood

Bodin said the candidates were good, but none really excited her.

She added that it was easy to see why Democrats were starting to pick up more votes in some north precincts.

“Our county is becoming younger all the time. So many of the younger ones are Democrats now,” Bodin said.

Amid the younger votes for the Democrats on the north end were some veterans of many previous presidential campaign.

In Oak Harbor 110, a precinct that was won by Clinton, Lillian Scouller said she wants the next president to end the war in Iraq. She voted for Obama.

“I have confidence in him,” she said.

Earlier, Scouller was leaning toward Richardson and Edwards, but they both dropped out.

“My oldest son is a minister in Port Orchard and he felt the same way as I did. Then I kind of settled for Obama,” said Scouller, 87.

Jumping ship

Some Republicans freely admitted they jumped ship to vote for a Democrat.

Douglas Zook, a voter in the Clinton precinct, was one.

“I’m not happy with the war. I don’t think either of the candidates have a good solution in my party. I can’t follow the Republicans any farther, any longer,” he said.

Zook voted for Obama. “I’m ready for a fresh start. I’m just fed up with the Republican party.”

“I think there are more people who have been Republican and who are moving over to Democrats now,” said Dana Matthews, a voter in the Countryside precinct.

“I think everybody is ready for a big change. I think the war has a lot to do with it and the economy. And this being a military town, mostly military,” Matthews said. “A lot of us have seen our loved ones go. My sister is in Iraq for the third time. It is so close to home for us.”

This choice for president has really gotten her attention, she said.

“I watched the debates, which I usually don’t do,” she said.

Others in the family are tuned in, too. They’ve sat down to talk about the debates, the candidates.

“We’ve seen the changes that are happening in this country and we’re not happy with them,” said Matthews, who added that she voted for Obama.

In some precincts, no candidate was able to claim the bare majority of the vote; 50 percent plus one.

It was a mixed bag across the county.

McCain, the Republican front runner, did not get a majority vote in 11 of the county’s 65 precincts.

Democratic candidates failed to get a majority vote in 11 precincts, as well.

In Countryside, both Clinton and Obama got 54 votes, or 48 percent of the vote. John Edwards got three votes, and Dennis Kucinich, 1.

On the Republican side, McCain won the precinct with 107 votes.

Max Cozine, 90, was one of the early voters. His ballot was in one of the early batches counted.

He also decided on his candidate early.

“I didn’t want the Republicans to win,” he said.

“It was an easy choice but I don’t think I would want to tell you who I voted for,” he said.

Staying blue

Voters from Central Whidbey and precincts south, areas that have traditionally voted for Democrats, stayed true to history.

Many voters across the county waited until the last two days or the final day to turn in their ballot.

Kim Buckhalter, a voter in the Double Bluff Precinct, said she had a tough time choosing.

“I felt like Obama was almost a fad,” she said.

“He’s very charismatic, he knows how to speak to the people, he’s got the ability to kind of rev things up and get people going. But when I would read on his Web site or I would listen to the debates or listen to what he had to say, I felt like it didn’t have a lot of content,” Buckhalter said.

She praised Clinton’s experience, and previous time in the White House.

“By being the first lady, she’s had a lot more experience overall as far as what would make a good president.”

Though she is proud of his opposition to the idea, Obama has overplayed his opposition to the war in Iraq, she said.

“I felt like he waved that flag too much,” Buckhalter said.

Even so, Obama got more than twice the votes of Clinton in Double Bluff. Buckhalter said she’s heard many people in her party say it’s time to get a new name in the White House.

“Quite a bit of the Democrats feel very strongly about that having Hillary elected would continue the dynasty. I felt like that was a load of crap.”

“It starts out in the media and then people around the country pick it up almost like bulldogs and won’t let it go,” she said.

“Honestly, the most important thing to me was who could beat McCain well, well enough to gain some more votes. And who could really stand up to him and speak on things, just run him over,” she added.

In any debate, Clinton could get the best of a bad-tempered McCain, she said.

“I think Hillary would be more clever at finding ways to push McCain’s buttons.”

Some Democrats said they didn’t mind who won the White House, as long as it’s a Democrat.

United front needed

“I will be happy with whoever gets it,” said Bonnie Cook, of the Lone Lake Precinct.

“I am so unhappy with the way things are. I will just be happy for a big change, if that happens,” she said.

Cook — “a Democrat since I was in the second grade” — said she didn’t like the campaign turmoil in the party that’s now making headlines. That can’t help come November, she said.

“I find it unfortunate that the candidates in my party have to squabble. It would be nice if they could stick together because down the line it’s going to have to be a cohesive party.”

Democrats need to stick together and stop the “infighting within the family,” she said.

“I think that’s the thing that’s bothered me more than anything else,” Cook said.

On Camano Island, Obama won six of 10 precincts; Utsalady, Maple Grove, Camano, Driftwood and Countryclub. McCain won the Livingston Bay and Triangle Cove precincts, while Clinton won Madrona and Mabana precincts.

Peggy Black is voter in Mabana, a precinct that has historically voted for Democrats.

Democratic support is growing stronger, said Black, who voted for Obama.

“Our particular neighborhood is really beginning to change. We’re getting a lot of young families coming in, which we haven’t had for years,” she said.

Even so, the precinct was a close race in the primary. Clinton pulled in 113 votes to McCain’s 112.

“You have your staunch Democrats and staunch Republicans here,” Black said as her husband said “Hurray, hurray!” over her shoulder.

He voted for the other party.

“We usually cancel out each other’s vote. It makes for a good marriage.”

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