Gauging Voters' Views Around the Nation

On Feb. 5, more than 20 states host presidential primary contests. How are voters in three diverse states — Alabama, Arizona and California — feeling about their choices?

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

One of the Democratic candidates, reportedly, is ending his campaign. John Edwards is expected to drop out of the race later today. He is due to make an announcement in New Orleans, where he launched his popular campaign 13 months ago. Today, many of the candidates who are moving on to Super Tuesday, are headed to California. This state is the biggest prize in next week's coast to coast contest. From now, until then, our reporters will be in many of those states, following the candidates, talking to voters and covering the issues particular to each state.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Right now, we're going to travel with three reporters to three Super Tuesday states: Alabama, Arizona and the California.

First, to Birmingham, Alabama, where, as Tanya Ott reports, voters feel they finally have a say in the presidential race.

TANYA OTT: After holding the primary in June, the past four cycles, the state moved up the primary this year to February.

And veteran Democratic state lawmaker Fred Horn says it's about time.

Mr. FRED HORN (Democrat, Chairman of the State Senate Finance and Taxation Committee, Birmingham, Alabama): Now, we are a part. People are listening to us.

OTT: Huckabee, Obama, McCain, Edwards - they are all campaigning here, and the airwaves are filling up with ads. The Republicans are fighting for the votes of the state's 1.3 million southern Baptists, and other evangelicals, like college student Chad Henney(ph).

Mr. CHAD HENNEY (College Student): There's hardly ever a presidential candidate here, especially a Republican, because it's usually written off as a Republican state, so, yeah.

Unidentified Woman: Hi. Obama buttons.

Unidentified Man: Three for five?

Unidentified Woman: Five each or three for ten.

Unidentified Man: Oh.

OTT: In a typical year, about 40 percent of the Democratic electorate is African-American, but that number is expected to grow on Tuesday. Even some white Republicans, like Tim Blair(ph), are thinking about pulling the Democratic lever. Blair has voted GOP his entire life, but says he could cross over for Obama.

Mr. TIM BLAIR (Republican, Alabama): He's a compromiser, and that appeals to me right now.

OTT: Or Blair says he could easily go with moderate Republican John McCain. In Alabama, there is no party registration, so there could be a fair amount of crossing over. And it could begin today. Residents in Mobile have the option of voting today so it doesn't interfere with next week's Madri Gras.

For NPR News, I'm Tanya Ott in Birmingham.

TED ROBBINS: I'm Ted Robbins in south Tucson at Taqueria Pico De Gallo, a popular Mexican lunch spot.

Mr. FRANCISCO PESCARA(ph) (Owner, Taqueria Pico De Gallo): You know, the business is very slow right now. We're down, down, down for about 50 percent.

ROBBINS: After the economy, the big issue here in Arizona is immigration. Francisco Pescara, a Democrat, sees the two issues linked. Many of his customers are immigrants or have immigrant family members. They are leaving the state, he says, because of the economy and state laws cracking down on illegal immigrants. He won't say who he's voting for, but he's a prime target.

The state Democratic Party says 25 percent of its eligible voters are Hispanic. They've been favoring Hillary Clinton in polls, but the Obama campaign is hoping momentum and recent endorsements from the Kennedy family will benefit him.

Next door, Adam Delgado(ph) owns another restaurant. Delgado is a Republican who is also seeing fewer customers. He says he hasn't made up his mind who to vote for. All the candidates, he says, are making the same sweet promises.

Mr. ADAM DELGADO (Restaurant Owner): It's like that commercial of Honey Nut Cheerios commercial I have seen where he goes into the supermarket. Everything is Honey Nut Cheerios.

ROBBINS: John McCain was packaged in Arizona, though, and he is widely expected to win his home state. But Mitt Romney has been making headway among Republican activists who see him as more in line with party positions. McCain appeals to independents, but they will have to wait until the general election to vote. The state's primary is open only to party members.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

INA JAFFE: I'm Ina Jaffe on the campus of UCLA.

Unidentified Man: Vote in a mock election today. It takes a few seconds.

JAFFE: Yesterday, student activists of both parties were hoping a mock election would rev up interest in the upcoming primary. Voters under 30 make up about 16 percent of the likely voters in California. And in this blue state, on this college campus, a lot of those potential voters were backing Barack Obama. Senior Curtis Whatley(ph) says the students here take his message of unity personally.

Mr. CURTIS WHATLEY (Senior Student, UCLA): We don't like it that when you go to dinner at your family's place that you can't talk to certain relatives because one of them is Republican and you happen to be a Democrat.

JAFFE: And you think that Senator Obama can change that?

Mr. WHATLY: I do.

JAFFE: Despite Obama's appeal to young voters, Hillary Clinton leads in the statewide polls here. Tiffany Niemen(ph) is a 35-year-old American lit major, and she admires Clinton's experience.

Ms. TIFFANY NIEMAN (American Lit Major, UCLA): She's actually the one that's going to make the change happen. So, you know, I'm hoping I can bring a little wisdom to the kids here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JAFFE: Among Republicans, John McCain leads Mitt Romney in the most recent California polls, but none of those student Republicans we spoke with mentioned either of them. We met supporters of Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee. But most of the students passed by the mock election voting booth without casting a ballot. Maybe they're just waiting for the real thing next week.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: And if you go to npr.org/elections, there's a map of the primary state so you can track the candidates' activities going into Super Tuesday.

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McCain Wins Florida's Republican Primary

Arizona Sen. John McCain won the Florida Republican primary on Tuesday, earning him the state's coveted 57 delegates and giving him his third January victory heading into Super Tuesday.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was just about 5 percentage points back but received no dividend, given the state's winner-take-all rules. Romney had been in a virtual tie with McCain in late polls in Florida, where he had a strong debate performance Jan. 24 in Boca Raton. His message of business expertise in the face of looming recession had been seen as timely and effective.

But in the end, McCain was the choice of slightly more Republican voters who cited the economy as their top concern, according the exit polls by the Associated Press and TV networks.

Romney was the favorite among those who opposed abortion and illegal immigration, along with 40 percent of conservative Republicans. McCain attracted 25 percent of conservative Republicans, getting his boost from moderates, Latinos and older Floridians.

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee came in a distant third and fourth place. The Associated Press is reporting that Giuliani plans to drop out of the race Wednesday to endorse McCain.

In his victory speech, McCain cited Ronald Reagan as his inspiration, stressing his conservative credentials and his commitment to national security.

"I intend to be the nominee of our party. I stand for the principles and policies that first attracted me to the Republican Party," McCain said.

Romney vowed to stay in the race and to fight what he calls the failed policies of a broken Washington. Speaking to supporters in St. Petersburg, he said, "At a time like this, America needs a president in the White House who has actually had a job in the real economy."

Florida's No-Delegate Democratic Primary

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton easily won Florida's Democratic primary — although no delegates were actually awarded, and the contest itself was not sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee. The committee acted after Florida defied both national parties' rules and moved its primary into January. The candidates also respected a committee ban on campaigning in Florida — which nonetheless listed their names on the ballot.

The Clinton campaign called its 50-percent share of the vote a major victory (Obama had about 33 percent) and accused the Obama camp of violating the ban on campaigning by including Florida in a national ad buy. The Obama camp noted that Clinton had appealed to Floridians over the weekend by promising to have her delegates vote to seat the Florida delegation at the national meeting in Denver in August.

Record Voter Turnout in Florida

Voting was brisk throughout the day. Even before primary day, more than 1 million Florida residents, or about 10 percent of all those eligible, participated through absentee ballots or early voting. (Florida is one of several states to allow early voting at select polling stations.)

In the last Florida GOP contest in 2000, 700,000 Republicans voted. This year, about 1.9 million did. Democratic turnout was also up dramatically from 2000 and 2004, with at least 1.7 million voting on that side.

While the close presidential race may have helped turnout, a local proposition on property taxes also fueled voter traffic.

Florida as Giuliani's Swan Song

With four Republican front-runners going into the primary, the contest became the candidates' last chance to winnow the field before the race opened up into a broader national contest.

Florida also became the sole hope for Giuliani. After largely ignoring the other early voting contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, Giuliani staked his entire campaign on Florida — with the hope that the state's large number of ex-New Yorkers would support their former mayor.

But even an abundance of Yankee baseball references could not boost his candidacy, as his rivals touted their early victories and the resulting media coverage. Giuliani's lead in the national polls had evaporated before the end of 2007, and his numbers in Florida followed suit.

Floridians did not even flock to him when he proposed a hyper-local issue: the creation of a National Catastrophe Insurance Fund to help Floridians who could no longer afford homeowner's insurance premiums after the state's last two hurricanes.

After his disappointing third-place finish, Giuliani told supporters that "the responsibility of leadership doesn't end with a single campaign. It goes on and you continue to fight for it."

While Giuliani's star power dimmed over the last few weeks, Huckabee suffered from a lack of money. His campaign could not compete against McCain or deep-pocketed Romney, who has been advertising in Florida since March 2007.

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