Politics & Government

Midstate Democrats overwhelmingly back Obama

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama won Georgia's Democratic primary going away, but his victory in some Middle Georgia counties was even more emphatic.

With all of the precincts in Tuesday night, Obama had 76 percent of the Democratic vote in Bibb County, 68 percent in Houston and 72 percent in Peach. In Baldwin County about 68 percent of Democrats went for Obama over New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. His Georgia total was running at 63 percent late Tuesday night, and in Jones, Monroe, Crawford and Laurens counties he performed below that mark.

But the lowest total was in Monroe, where Obama still won 54 percent of the Democratic vote.

There were a lot of reasons for Obama's substantial victory both in Georgia and the mid-state, which will have to be placed in the larger context of national results and the allocation of the Democratic Convention delegates who will ultimately pick a nominee. Georgia saw a late surge in voter registration, particularly among minority voters, and many observers felt that boded well for Obama. Former Sen. John Edwards dropping out of the Democratic race recently may have given both remaining candidates a bump, but some felt it would help Obama more.

The Obama campaign probably had the largest Mid-state presence of any of the campaigns, regardless of party. He visited once, attending church at Harvest Cathedral in Macon. His campaign opened not just one office in Macon, but two. The Clinton campaign didn't formally open an office here, and her campaign stayed off the local air waves. The Obama campaign flooded local television channels with advertising.

But the bottom line may have been the bedrock, if buzzword, concepts of Obama's campaign: unity and change.

"We are one nation, really, one family," said Amy Morton, a Democratic operative who supported Edwards, then switched to Obama after Edwards left the race. "And I think that when someone, whether it's (Macon Mayor) Robert Reichert or Barack Obama, makes the strong case that we all have to be at the table to solve the problems of this country, I think that resonates with people."

Obama, Macon City Councilwoman Elaine Lucas said, stirred up a lot of excitement, particularly with black voters and new voters. And people were "so tired off what we've had the last eight years in Washington, I think he has just struck a nerve," said Lucas, who supported Clinton.

"She's doing well in other states. ..." Lucas said. "It's going to be a long night and we still have a lot of work to do before the final two candidates are left standing."

Doug Wolfe, Chairman of the Laurens County Democratic Party, said Clinton's role as an "establishment Democrat" and her lack of popularity with white men helped defeat her in Georgia, particularly once Edwards left the race.

"I believe that, if you're a white male, and particularly in this part of the country, Hillary Clinton is not your first choice," Wolfe said.

Some of the Obama faithful gathered in a room at Studio 32, an east Macon night club, to watch the results roll in. Before most of them even got there, CNN called the state for Obama based on exit polling that showed heavy turnout — especially among young people.

More than 30 supporters were at the party by 8 p.m.. It was a mix of young and old, black and white, veteran local politicians and volunteer campaigners from as far away as Seattle. One young man from Warner Robins, 19-year-old Kyle Klobucher, said he was a Republican.

"But it's time for a change," he said.

Before blessing the food and settling in to watch the returns, the group did a round of Obama cheers for a local television camera. Then Kate Wegrzyn, a paid campaign staffer who came to Macon to help set up the local operation, briefly addressed the crowd.

"I hope you all know that you own a part of this campaign," she said. "And this success is because of you guys."