By Stephen Tait and Angeljean Chiaramida
Slushy sidewalks and overcast skies did little to dampen local voting turnout yesterday, as 55 percent of Newburyport's registered voters made it to the polls with Sen. Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney emerging as local favorites.
But the city's Democratic ticket bucked the statewide trend, as Sen. Hillary Clinton earned the most votes statewide — and the most votes in most other local towns. Still, the race between Clinton and Obama remained tight nationwide with no senator looking poised to secure the nomination.
Obama, the Illinois senator, didn't win by much in Newburyport, edging out Clinton by just 28 votes, 2,339 to 2,311, according to unofficial results. He also edged out a bare-bones win in Newbury, 795-764. Statewide, Clinton secured almost 58 percent of the vote as of press time, with Obama securing just 40 percent.
Scott Smith, who lives on Carter Street in Newburyport and works in the high-tech industry, said he voted for Obama after being impressed by his positive message.
"I feel he is a potential uniting force," Smith said after voting. "I like his positive, can-do message."
On the Republican ticket, Newburyport mirrored the rest of the Bay State, with Romney taking more than 50 percent of the vote, or 1,062 votes. Sen. John McCain of Arizona earned 878 of the 2,094 votes cast.
Mike Huckabee came in a distant third place with 55 votes.
It looked that McCain, the front-runner going into Super Tuesday — in which more than 20 states voted or caucused — maintained his momentum yesterday and would likely clinch the Republican nomination. Pundits predict that while McCain looks like a lock for the GOP, the Democratic nomination may be up for grabs for weeks to come.
Turnout wasn't just impressive in Newburyport: in Amesbury, 4,828 residents or 43 percent voted; Salisbury saw 2,228 voters or 40 percent turnout to the polls; and 53 percent, or 2,068, Merrimac voters cast their ballots.
Newburyport went against the grain on the Democratic ticket, with Clinton winning in Amesbury (1,729 to 1,326), Merrimac (700 to 548), Rowley (574 to 451) and Salisbury (1,018 to 471).
Most results on the Republican ticket in the surrounding area also mimicked Newburyport. Romney won over McCain in Amesbury (825 to 689), Rowley (488 to 390), Newbury (576 to 465), Salisbury (372 to 333) and Merrimac (388 to 333).
"It's been steady since we opened this morning," Salisbury Town Clerk Wilma McDonald said yesterday. "We've seen about 100 people an hour, and it's even picking up a little. That's very good."
In Newburyport, the 6,880 voters outpaced the previous primary election in 2004 by more than 4,000 voters.
Mary Borin, the warden of Ward 5 in Newburyport, said the snow and rain in the morning contributed to a slow start, but voting picked up as the bad weather moved on.
She said from 5 p.m. until the polls closed — just three hours of voting time — more than 400 residents cast their votes.
"It was a slow start because of the snow," she said, "But it is very good. They all decided to vote after work. It has been very steady."
Tricia Barker, assistant city clerk, said the day was an active and busy one. For instance, about 7 p.m., the warden from Ward 2 called to say more Democrat and Republican ballots were needed, which an election worker delivered to ensure all could vote.
Linda Ward of Salisbury said she cast a vote for Romney, but among the five children and two adults in the family, Romney won't get every vote.
"We've talked about all the different candidates at home, and we've had some heated discussions," Ward said. "There'll be votes cast on both sides of the territory. My husband's a political junkie."
Rebecca Simard, a retired Sharon Drive resident, said she voted for Clinton, but she said it was not an easy decision since she also is impressed by Obama. She said she didn't make her mind up until the last minute.
"I just think she has more experience," she said. "I like Obama, but at the last minute I went with Clinton."
Craig Gunter and Lisa Emerson, a married couple from Broad Street in Newburyport, said they both voted for Clinton. They said she is the best qualified, most experienced and the "best woman for the job."
"We think that Hillary is more qualified," Gunter, an accountant, said.
"We also like that she didn't do a lot of mudslinging," Emerson, a flight attendant, said.
Cecile Groder of Salisbury is a regular voter, she said, but this election is especially meaningful. She said she cast her vote for Clinton.
"This is a very important election this year. It's a very close primary race for Democrats," Groder said. "I feel as if my vote really counts for something this year.
"I feel (Clinton) has the experience to make the changes that are needed. But it was a tough decision; I was undecided right up until I came here today."