John Kerry dominated Boone County in Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary without investing in an extensive campaign here. His victory showed decisive strength in what has been called a county of maverick voters when compared with the rest of the state.
With nearly all results totaled late Tuesday, Kerry led all candidates in Boone County with 44.4 percent of the vote. He declared victory in Missouri less than three hours after polls closed, finishing with more than half the vote statewide.
Exit polls here favored Kerry all day, with many Columbia and Boone County voters saying they support him because of his apparent ability to stand up to President George W. Bush in November’s presidential election.
“I just want to get Bush out,” Kerry supporter Julia King said after she voted early Tuesday afternoon.
With 23.5 percent, John Edwards captured the second-most voters in Boone County, riding the endorsements of local Democratic politicians, including state Reps. Chuck Graham and Jeff Harris.
Howard Dean came in third locally with 14.5 percent of the vote. Wesley Clark, Joe Lieberman, Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton finished fourth through seventh, respectively, each receiving less than 10 percent of the county vote.
Dean, who had been seen for months as a favorite in liberal Columbia, seemed to lose many of his supporters to Kerry at the polls. Former Dean supporters lamented his frantic speech after the Iowa caucuses and his subsequent inability to rally support in New Hampshire, saying Kerry has proven himself as the front-running contender.
“I don’t think Dean is unelectable,” said Andy Zellers, a law student at MU who supported Dean until his third-place finish in Iowa. “I just think that Kerry has the momentum and that party unity is more important than any one candidate.”
Despite Edwards’ higher profile in Boone County, he earned barely half of Kerry’s vote total here. Graham and Harris, the local state representatives, endorsed Edwards last week at a press conference held at MU by his wife, Elizabeth Edwards. Both representatives said Tuesday that Kerry’s victory was no shock.
“It’s not a surprise that Kerry won,” Graham said. “We feel good that only a week ago Edwards was polling in single digits ... now he can win delegates.”
The 16.2-percent voter turnout, 15,673 ballots, Tuesday in Boone County might have been hurt by messy weather and a shortened campaign period, Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren said.
“A few weeks ago, everyone thought it was a foregone conclusion that Dean would win, and last week it was a forgone conclusion that Kerry would win,” Noren said. “I don’t think the voters knew what to expect.”
Missouri, regarded as a bellwether in presidential elections, was one of Kerry’s most decisive victories Tuesday. He captured victories in five of Tuesday’s seven primaries and finished second in South Carolina and third in Oklahoma, according to poll results late Tuesday.
“This shows that we truly have a national campaign and a national message,” Kerry spokeswoman Kim Molstre said. “The candidate that can do well in the primaries can do well in the general elections.”
After a poor showing in Delaware, Lieberman abandoned his bid for the Democratic nomination Tuesday evening before Missouri’s votes were tallied.
As expected, Bush won the Republican nomination in Boone County and Missouri with 95.9 and 95.1 percent of the vote respectively. Gary Nolan won the Libertarian vote in the county and the state.
— Missourian reporters Kristin Hayden, Coulter Jones, Sarah Kemp, Jason O’Connell, Joi Preciphs, Sara Semelka, Diego Sorbara and Alex Yalen contributed to this story.