Obama, Clinton in tight primaries race

Obama steps up efforts in New York; voting numbers expected to break records.

Obama great 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Obama great 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Gray skies and intermittent drizzle didn't keep voters away from voting booths throughout Manhattan on Primary Day, as the Empire State and 23 others hosted contests Tuesday that could alter the landscape of the presidential field.
New Yorkers joined millions of Americans from Alaska to West Virginia, from Massachusetts to California in turning out in numbers expected to break records from coast to coast. Many were spurred to action by close races that put Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama neck-and-neck nationally and Republican Mitt Romney on the heels of John McCain in significant states such as California, although he is trailing McCain nationally. Results were not available until well after press time.
"I've been voting for 20 years and I've never seen this much excitement before," said New Yorker Deborah Lopez, who voted for Clinton but said of the enthusiasm, "I don't think it's about her."
Pausing on the street outside a polling station in the heavily Democratic and Jewish Upper West Side, she said, "I wouldn't be surprised if she doesn't carry the state, as crazy as it sounds."
Clinton, who represents New York in the US Senate and has long enjoyed a sizable lead over Obama here, was still ahead in polls ahead of the vote. But her numbers were dropping slightly in New York heading into the vote and were slipping more nationally. Though expected to make off with more New York delegates to the national nominating convention than Obama, a strong showing by him in New York would still give him hefty backing, as the delegates get assigned proportionally. He was also giving her a strong challenge in neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut, as well as in the biggest state, California.
Although candidates have devoted considerable attention to debating issues such as the economy, health care, the war in Iraq and immigration, in the Democratic primary many voters described their choice as based on factors other than policy, including which candidate was more inspiring or electable.
Many voters also said that they see Clinton and Obama as largely in agreement on issues, including Israel and the Middle East, leading several Jewish Democratic voters to discount that issue when casting their vote.
"Those are not the issues I'm focused on in this campaign," said Lopez, who is Jewish. "I don't think there's a lot of difference between them on those issues."
"I don't think the US is going to swing wildly in its relation with Israel with any of these candidates. If Ralph Nader was on the ticket, I would vote against him," said Barbara Reader, another Jewish Upper West Side voter, referring to a former independent candidate widely perceived as anti-Israel.
Instead, Reader said she chose Clinton based largely on her having more experience than Obama.
The Obama camp has been expending considerable energy in recent days to reassure Jewish voters that he strongly supports Israel and to counter an e-mail campaign falsely accusing him of being a closeted Muslim.
On her way to the Upper West Side polling station, Dora Issacharoff said Israel was a very important issue to her generally. In this vote, she explained, "I don't think there is much difference really between Obama and Clinton. If Obama is a unifier and if he can unify the country, he will be good for everybody," and that could have positive implications for the Middle East as well.
Lopez said she ultimately went with Clinton - after initially backing Obama - because of comments she heard local US Congressman Jerrold Nadler recently make in promoting Clinton. He pointed to her focus on cleaning up downtown Manhattan, which is still suffering from debris and contamination threats post-September 11.
The Clinton campaign was hoping that endorsements by familiar faces and literature tailored to local constituencies would help sway voters. A special flier declared: "Upper West Side Leaders Are United: Hillary Clinton is the Progressive Choice for President." Nadler was among the backers listed on the reverse side.
In addition, the campaign sent out supporters to popular Manhattan voting spots Tuesday that they thought would appeal to locals. Two of the Jewish surrogates sent out in the heavily Jewish voting area were director Rob Reiner and Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.
"Definitely we've been trying to match up speakers and elected officials with the [voters] that are going to respond well to them," said Carrie Marlin, who has scheduled surrogate events for the campaign and was manning a staging location for get-out-the-vote efforts near Central Park.
Stickers, banners and brochures covered a table near her, while volunteers trickled in and out to pick up materials to pass out to voters near the polls.
While Marlin said that voter support for Clinton in the area was strong, a campaign worker nearby complained that Obama's organization had a much larger presence in the area.
"The opposition is out there like ants," she said, estimating his representation as at least three times larger than Clinton's. At the Upper West Side polling station at noontime, for instance, Obama signs outnumber Clinton posters four to one, as did the number of volunteers approaching voters.
Obama's area "hub captain" Peter Nilsson said the district, one of the "largest voting blocs" in the United States because of its population density and political activism, was manned with many volunteers pounding the pavement to make sure Obama got significant support.
Lopez said, though, that regardless of which candidate Democrats are supporting, "This election and what's exciting to people is what it would mean for the country to chose either of these candidates."