California at Center of Historic Super Tuesday Election

By: Juliet Williams AP
By: Juliet Williams AP

LOS ANGELES (AP) - California drew the eyes of the nation Tuesday, as the most populous state wielded its influence in the presidential nominating process for the first time in decades.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, voting in Brentwood with his wife, Maria Shriver, called the state Super Tuesday's "golden prize" after he and lawmakers moved its presidential primary from June to February this year.

"When it comes to choosing a presidential candidate, for decades California wasn't important," the governor said. "Now it is."

In addition to the race for votes, a rich trove of delegates is at stake - 370 for Democrats and 170 for Republicans.

Races in both parties' primaries remained up for grabs, adding to the Election Day drama.

That forced campaigns for all the major candidates to push hard right through Election Day - from celebrity-packed weekend events to grassroots drives in every corner of the state.

John McCain rearranged his schedule to campaign in San Diego. Democrat Barack Obama's campaign placed automated telephone calls
to 500,000 people - with Stevie Wonder singing, "I just called to say I love you, and please vote for my friend Barack Obama."

Voter registration hit a record for a presidential primary in California, at 15.7 million voters, or about 68.5 percent of those eligible. About half all ballots were expected to be absentee.

A high number of mail-in ballots was expected to come in at the last minute, contributing to what registrars said would be a late vote count. Election officials predicted that 20 percent or more of the ballots would remain uncounted on Election Night.

Californians also were voting on several statewide propositions, including one that would modify legislative term limits and another that would allow a major expansion of Indian gambling.

It was the presidential race that attracted almost all the attention.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Rodham Clinton saw her double-digit lead over Obama evaporate in the final days before the election. She sent her husband, former President Bill Clinton, to campaign at black churches and at rallies throughout the state.

He had to contend with the celebrity power of talk show host Oprah Winfrey, who energized 9,000 people during a weekend rally in Los Angeles for Obama. Shriver also endorsed the Illinois senator, whose campaign resonated with Californians who believe Washington needs an overhaul.

"I hadn't voted since Jimmy Carter. For the first time in my lifetime, I found someone to vote for - rather than just voting against someone," said Hank Hardin, a 61-year-old independent and Vietnam veteran from Brentwood who voted for Obama.

He said he does not want to see a familiar name return to the White House.

"I don't believe in dynasties," he said. "We've got Kennedys, Clintons, Bushes. That's not what this country is about."

McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney added last-minute stops in the state, too, as McCain capitalized on an endorsement from Schwarzenegger.

The presidential contest drove most of the interest Tuesday, despite a slate of statewide ballot initiatives pitting special interest groups against one another on everything from community college funding to legislative term limits.

One measure, Proposition 93, sought to modify term limits for state lawmakers, cutting two years off the maximum time lawmakers could serve, from 14 years to 12, but allowing them to spend all 12 years in one house of the Legislature. It also would allow 34 lawmakers who otherwise would be termed out of the Assembly or Senate this year to stay in office for another four or six years.

The governor's deals to let four Southern California Indian tribes add up to 17,000 slot machines to their casinos attracted more than $130 million in spending, most of it for advertisements by the tribes and their allies, who urged yes votes in a series of TV commercials. A no vote on propositions 94-97 would repeal the gambling compacts, which also were approved by the Legislature.

Voters also were deciding whether to alter the state's education funding law to benefit the nation's largest community college system. Proposition 92 would dedicate a certain amount of money each year and reduce course fees to $15 per unit from the current $20.

But the measure includes no dedicated revenue source and comes as state lawmakers are faced with a $14.5 billion budget deficit.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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