Obama wins North Carolina
By Mark Wineka
Democrat Barack Obama rode a grass-roots organization filled with people involved in politics for the first time to an impressive presidential primary victory in North Carolina Tuesday.
His chief rival, U.S Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, looked to have a winning margin in Indiana late Tuesday, though the vote in that midwestern state was much closer.
Obama led the Democratic presidential vote in Rowan County with 49.5 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 47.5 percent. Bill and Hillary Clinton made stops in Salisbury during the primary season.
Obama captured 8,143 votes in Rowan to Clinton’s 7,811.
Even with the strong interest in the Democratic primary, only 31 percent of Rowan County’s registered voters ó 26,544 out of 85,650 ó cast primary ballots.
Celebrating his Tar Heel State victory in Raleigh, Obama told his supporters that North Carolina was described as a “game changer,” and what voters said Tuesday was they wanted to change the game in Washington.
The U.S. senator from Illinois called the campaign for president “our moment, our time” and predicted he would end the night fewer than 200 delegates away from the nomination.
Returns from 99 percent of North Carolina precincts showed Obama was winning 56 percent of the vote to 42 percent for Clinton, a triumph that mirrored his earlier wins in Southern states with large black populations.
Obama won at least 40 delegates and Clinton at least 31 in the two states, with 116 still to be awarded.
In Indiana, returns from 92 percent of the precincts showed Clinton with 51 percent of the vote to 49 percent for Obama.
Obama’s delegate haul edged him closer to his prize ó 1785.5 to 1,639 for Clinton in The Associated Press count, out of 2,025 needed to win the nomination.
He has long led Clinton among delegates won in the primaries and caucuses, and has increasingly narrowed his deficit among superdelegates who will attend the Democratic convention by virtue of their status as party leaders. The AP tally showed Clinton with 269.5 superdelegates, and Obama with 255.
Indiana had 72 delegates at stake, and Clinton arranged a primary-night appearance in Indianapolis.
North Carolina had 115 delegates at stake.
Salisbury’s Emily Perry, one of scores of volunteers who worked in Rowan County for Obama, said his candidacy locally was about a community coming together in something people believe in ó people believing the country can be turned around.
“It was truly grass roots all the way,” Perry said.
Obama volunteers celebrated Tuesday night at the home of Tonya Cross, a pharmacist who was one of those first-time participants in politics. She set up a huge computer projection of Election Night results on her living room wall and had a big-screen television showing Obama’s Raleigh speech in the rec room.
“It’s beyond exciting,” Cross said. “For me, he’s just a fresh new candidate” who will try to eliminate the bickering in Washington.
For her mother, who is in her 60s and lived through segregation, Obama represents an African-American candidate who has a great chance to be president ó something she probably never dreamed she would see in her lifetime, Cross said.
“For that generation, it means a whole lot more,” she added. “For me as well ó just to experience it.”
Perry and Cross were among the scores of Obama volunteers in Rowan who manned phone banks, worked polling places, canvassed neighborhoods and drove the elderly who needed rides to the polls.
Obama had supporters Tuesday across all races, generations and socio-economic status, “who felt it was time for a change,” Perry said.
Perry said she was not shocked by Obama’s margin of victory in North Carolina. She didn’t believe polls and pundits who said the N.C. race was tightening.
“I don’t think any of us were surprised,” Perry added. “We knew what we were doing day in and day out.”
Perry said Clinton’s organization in North Carolina operated from the top down, with former President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea, making numerous appearances.
But Obama’s campaign operated from the bottom up, she said.
Meanwhile, a handful of Clinton supporters who gathered at George’s Italian Grill & Bar in Salisbury said they expected Hillary to keep going.
“She has the gift of being stubborn ó that’s why we like her,” Suzanne Blunk said.
Blunk, Whitney Bost and Beth Bowman said that no matter who wins the Democratic nomination, they are going to support that person ó and work hard for him or her ó in November.
“We have two historic candidates,” Blunk said.
Bowman said she likes Clinton for her stands on the issues, including universal health care, jobs creation and the environment.
“I know who she is,” Bowman added after a day of working the polls for Congressional candidate Teresa Sue Bratton, too. “She has been around for two decades.”
Also in Rowan County, likely Republican presidential nominee John McCain captured just less than 75 percent of the vote. McCain had 7,332 Rowan votes; Mike Huckabee, 1,212; Ron Paul, 550; and Alan Keyes, 252.
A Rowan precinct was among those used by the National Election Pool for exit polling.
The Election Pool did exit polling at the West Kannapolis precinct, which is located at St. John’s United Church of Christ on North Main Street, a few blocks north of the N.C. Research Campus.
The pool includes ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, NBC and the Associated Press
Evans said this is only the second time a Rowan precinct has been used in exit polling.
The media group received prior approval from state election officials.
At least a few voters across the county got mad when they discovered they couldn’t vote in the Democratic presidential race.
They told precinct officials that who they wanted to vote for wasn’t on the ballot.
Told they couldn’t vote in the Democratic primary, Evans said most chose to spoil the ballot rather than vote in the Republican primary. The ballots are marked spoiled because they were given out, but no votes recorded.
“We had the same thing at one stop, people got mad because who they wanted to vote for wasn’t on the ballot,” said Evans, adding that in some cases the people previously lived in states that hold open primaries where voters can cross party lines.
The Associated Press and Jessie Burchette of the Salisbury Post contributed to this story.