At ballot box, a day like no other
Massive load of contests fuels interest
PHOENIX - She had a 13-hour window to vote in the Arizona presidential primary, but Mona Reese decided she couldn't wait. She didn't even brush her teeth or change out of her pajamas before leaving home.
She found herself in line before dawn at the fellowship hall of a Methodist church in Phoenix, excitedly waiting to cast a ballot for Senator Barack Obama. Later she clutched her "I Voted Today" sticker as if it were a winning lottery ticket.
"I literally just woke up," she said, apologizing for tousled hair and a makeup-free face. "I'm so sorry. It's that important. To wake up at 5:45 in the morning to get down here and vote."
The enthusiasm was not uncommon on a day like no other in American politics, a scramble of primaries and caucuses that went coast-to-coast - and beyond, to the South Pacific island of American Samoa.
It was a day in which more people than ever had a say in who would be left standing to wage the long campaign for the presidency.
And it produced democracy in some of its most dramatic forms.
In Alaska, battered by brutal cold, voters trudged through a foot of new snow in some places to get to caucuses at convention centers, middle schools, a radio station - and at least one Chinese restaurant.
In Lower Manhattan, voters in the New York primary elbowed their way past euphoric New York Giants fans, through tons of fluttering confetti, to get to polling places near the Super Bowl victory parade.
In Virginia, voters were so eager they turned up at polling places across the state and deluged the Board of Elections with phone calls - and the Virginia primary isn't for another week.
It was the apex, so far, of an election season in which unusually wide-open party races converged with markedly increased voter interest and the most diverse set of finalists ever.
In the words of Jessica Pomey, a 29-year-old Obama voter from Oakland, Calif.: "Politics used to be something you didn't talk about. Now it's everywhere, in hair salons, everywhere. It's part of the conversation."
The geographic scale was unprecedented for a primary season - and, in a way, bigger than most general elections, which are fought mostly in a few battleground states.
Voters in lines all over the country found themselves thinking about the intricate details of healthcare proposals, or the delicate state of Iraq, or which Republican matched up best against which Democrat.
"I've been voting since I was 18, but this vote is one of the more important ones because of the impact it will have on a national level," said Tessica Mitchell, 23, who voted on an enclosed porch at a family farm in Meridian, Okla.
The excitement extended beyond US borders. Americans abroad, seeking a change in foreign policy and a new image for their homeland, flocked to churches in Rome, town halls in England, and an Irish pub in Hong Kong to vote in a Democrats Abroad primary.
Porchester Hall in central London was jammed with high-spirited voters last evening as rival groups backing Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton chanted and waved banners for their candidates.
Republicans abroad, meanwhile, made their Super Tuesday choices known through absentee ballots and predicted their party would unite behind whomever is nominated and keep control of the White House
Most Democrats abroad focused on the razor's edge contest between Clinton and Obama.
"I'm voting for Hillary. I'd like to see a woman in the White House," said Alison Kurke, who was first in line to vote at the American Episcopal Church of St. Paul's in Rome.
But James McGuire, a 24-year-old website developer from Massachusetts who traveled to Rome from the Umbrian town of Orvieto, favored Obama.
"I think it's one of the most important in years," he said of this election. "If we do not get Barack Obama in the presidency, then we will have two families for over 20 years . . . that's unacceptable."