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County voters give slight edge to Romney

LAWRENCEVILLE - While Gwinnett County's Democrats clearly backed Barack Obama during Tuesday's presidential preference primary vote, local Republicans were torn between the party's three favorites.

Statewide, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was the top vote-getter, but Gwinnettians gave a slight edge to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. With 162 of 165 precincts reporting, Romney had 28,698 votes or 35.45 percent, to Huckabee's 27,596 or 34.09 percent. U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona came in third with 21,473 or 26.52 percent.

Huckabee expected to get strong support in Gwinnett - a typically strong community for the GOP - because he supports the FairTax, Duluth Congressman John Linder's popular idea to do away with the federal income tax in favor of a national sales tax.

But even the county's Republican prowess showed a decline Tuesday, when about 54 percent of the electorate picked up that party's ticket. In 2004, President George W. Bush won 66 percent of Gwinnett's vote, giving him one of his largest margins of victory in the state. But this year, 76,431 voters chose Republican ballots and 63,709 voted for Democrats.

With 98 percent of the votes counted, Obama had 46,147 or 68.09 percent, well above Clinton's 20,399 or 30.1 percent.

About 45.45 percent of registered voters cast ballots in Gwinnett during the presidential preference primary, eclipsing the previous record turnout in a similar election, 39 percent in 1988.

Elections Supervisor Lynn Ledford said several polls reported two-hour lines when precincts officially closed at 7 p.m., although those in line were allowed to cast a ballot.

Ledford said the high numbers of first-time primary voters led to some voter confusion, mostly from people reporting to the wrong precinct. But she said she was unaware of any complaints about photo identification in the first major election since the ID was mandated by state law.

Ledford said she also did not hear complaints about the county's Web site, which was down much of the day Tuesday but was working by the time poll results were coming in at 7 p.m.

Also Tuesday, bond referendums to secure funding for classroom construction passed overwhelmingly in Gwinnett and Buford.