AZ: McCain Ahead, but Mormon Vote Boosted Romney
By Ann Scott Tyson
With polls closed in Arizona after a day of unusually high turnout, exit poll data show Republican Sen. John McCain winning comfortably on his home turf, but with a smaller-than-expected lead over his main rival, Mitt Romney.
Romney was buoyed in part by enthusiastic turnout of voters in precincts with large Mormon populations such as east Phoenix, according to state Republican Party chairman Randy Pullen. "The turnout there is huge, with an hour-and-a-half wait to vote," Pullen said.
Democrats, meanwhile, remain in an extremely close race, with Sen. Barack Obama slightly ahead of Sen. Hillary Clinton overall in preliminary exit polls.
High voter turnout likely bolstered Obama, who has gained on Clinton in the state in recent weeks, according to analysts.
"Voter turnout was extraordinarily high," said David Waid, the former state Democratic Party chairman, who said the line outside the church where he regularly votes ran out the door this morning and was the longest he had seen it, including for general elections.
As in other states, Clinton won more votes among Arizona's women and Hispanics, while Obama did better among men and blacks, according to the exit polls. About 30 percent of Arizona's population is Hispanic.
More than 100,000 voters were estimated to have cast early or provisional ballots, in part due to confusion among independent voters who were not registered to vote for either party and could not cast regular ballots in today's closed primaries. State officials said if the race is close, an official result could be delayed by several days as the provisional ballots are verified.
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