McCain romps in California primary win over Romney
Associated Press Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) ” John McCain overpowered Mitt Romney in California’s big-prize presidential primary tonight, capping the Arizona senator’s Super Tuesday rout with a win in the nation’s most populous state.
McCain had 44 percent of the vote to Romney’s 26 percent with 21 percent of precincts reporting.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee trailed with 12 percent.
With his win in California, McCain cemented his front-runner status after rolling up a string of victories on the delegate-rich East Coast.
Signs of a tightening race sent both candidates racing back to California this week, and Romney spent lavishly on TV advertising in hopes of stalling his rival’s momentum.
But McCain was soundly defeating his rival from San Diego to the Napa Valley.
In coastal Mendocino County, where 85 percent of the precincts were tallied, McCain had 49 percent of the vote, to 15 percent for Romney. In the Republican heartland of Riverside County, McCain had an 18-point edge with about 40 percent of the vote in.
California divvies up 170 Republican delegates ” nearly one-fifth of those at stake for Republicans on Super Tuesday.
But it amounted to 53 separate races. For the first time, the state awards three delegates to the winner in each congressional district.
A survey of voters leaving polling places found McCain was the overwhelming choice of party moderates and those looking for decisive leadership at a time of war. Romney has been fighting to win over conservatives who predominate in California’s GOP primary, and the exit poll found he was the favorite of “very conservative” voters as well as those who identified illegal immigration as the nation’s top issue.
To no surprise, illegal immigration was a top issue for many California Republicans.
Exit polls found Romney was favored by those who want illegal workers deported. Some conservatives saw McCain as the face of liberal immigration policy, but the Arizona senator also won votes for proposing a pathway to citizenship for illegal workers.
Immigration reform “is really the thing that made me vote for him,” said Juan Carlos, 32, a technology consultant who moved to the U.S. from Mexico 15 years ago.
In the upscale Mission Valley section of San Diego, Lindsey Aimone, 33, said she backed Romney because she felt he would do a better job of stopping the flow of illegal immigrants.
“He’s the only one talking about it,” Aimone said. “It’s getting so bad.”
In the closing days of the campaign, McCain aired a tough-talking radio ad on illegal immigration, a sign that he was being hurt on the issue. “I’ve listened and learned,” he said in the ad. “I’ll hire new border guards, build a fence.”
McCain came to the state with obvious advantages: He’s from neighboring Arizona; as a war hero, he has natural pull with California’s many veterans and active-duty personnel; and he won the endorsement of popular Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who’s been campaigning for him across the state.
California had long been a forgotten state in the presidential election, a place where candidates came mostly to collect checks in the fundraising centers of Hollywood and Silicon Valley. But this year the state has seen new clout and visibility since moving its primary to Super Tuesday from its traditional June berth.
Ironically, the best organized Republican was out of the race.
Rudy Giuliani had a staff of about 20 in California before pulling out and endorsing McCain after a poor showing in Florida. McCain, after his campaign nearly collapsed last summer, ran a largely volunteer effort in California and ended the race without putting up a single TV commercial, considered the best way to reach voters throughout the vast state.