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CAMPAIGN '08: STATE CONTESTS

Turnout is campaign's big winner

In state after state, record numbers are registering and voting. The figures appear to favor the Democrats.

February 10, 2008|Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writer

The presidential primary season has not yet confirmed a nominee in either major party, but it has already notched a different political accomplishment: It has driven more people to participate in the process.

More people have registered to vote, and many states have reported record voter turnout in the primary contests and caucuses so far.

Though there are signs that Democrats are gaining most from these developments, much can happen between now and November, and whom the party settles on as its nominee could make a significant difference.

The shift in party registration has been measurable in early-voting states like Nevada, where the number of registered Democrats crept ahead of registered Republicans in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 19 caucuses.

In Iowa, which started the nation's nominating season five weeks ago, Democratic registrations leapfrogged ahead of Republicans. Registered Democrats climbed to 606,209 last month, up nearly 14% from four years ago, and Republican registrations slid more than 1% to 576,231.

In New Hampshire, more than 75,000 people registered as Democrats on the day of the primary last month, compared with 61,731 Republicans. Such registrations for Democrats were more than double the number in 2000; primary-day registrations among Republicans fell from 2000.

Those last-minute registrations helped the Democrats edge past Republicans -- 333,802 to 332,698 -- a big change, given that Republicans held significant leads in the two previous presidential cycles. (The biggest gain in New Hampshire's primary-day registrations was among independent voters.)

In Florida, where the Democratic candidates did not campaign because of a dispute over the state's unsanctioned early primary, Democratic registrations still rose 5.6% from four years ago. That nearly kept pace with the 6.6% rise in Republican registrations.

Not only have more people registered, but more voters are turning out at the polls. About half the states that held elections through Super Tuesday saw record turnout, according to an analysis by the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University in Washington, which was reported by the Associated Press.

Twelve states saw record voter turnout in their Democratic primaries and 11 states broke records in their Republican contests, said the report, which was issued before Saturday's balloting.

Missouri, which George W. Bush won in 2000 and '04 and which analysts point to as a bellwether state, illustrates the new political landscape in dramatic fashion.

In the 2000 Super Tuesday primary, 740,852 voters cast ballots in the Republican and Democratic races, 64% of them for Republicans.

Last week, even though the candidates did little campaigning in Missouri, about 1.4 million voters flooded to the polls, with 58% of the votes cast for Democrats.

"I would much rather be in the situation of the Democrats than the Republicans," said Michael McDonald, an election-turnout expert at George Mason University and the Brookings Institution.

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scott.martelle@latimes.com

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