SAN FRANCISCO—The networks began to call the election for Barack Obama as the polls closed in California last night, but once the final tally began to come in, voters here left no doubt about their choice for president. While climbing toward victory in the Electoral College, Obama was also on his way to the largest margin of victory by a presidential candidate in the nation's most populous state since before World War II. With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Obama leads McCain, 61 to 37—just short of 25 percent. If that margin holds, it will trump even landslide wins in 1980 and 1984 by Ronald Reagan, the state's former governor, who won California in both elections by about 16 points. The last candidate to win California by more than 20 percent of the vote was Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, when he beat Republican Alf Langdon by 35 points.
Nearly 14 million people in California were expected to cast their ballots yesterday, more than a million more than voted in 2004—and about as many as voted in Pennsylvania and Ohio, two states expected to be this election's biggest battlegrounds, combined. California's nearly 79 percent turnout was its highest since 1976.
After a bruising primary battle here this summer, which saw Hillary Clinton dominate Obama among women and Latinos, voters in this perennially blue state rallied around the Democratic nominee. Democrats reported registering nearly 2 million more voters for this election than Republicans. According to exit polls, nearly two thirds of independent voters in the state said they supported Obama, compared with only 30 percent for McCain.
"The size of the margin is historically significant,'' Mark DiCamillo, the director of the state's Field Poll, told reporters this week when his survey predicted an Obama landslide. "We're in a time when the public very much believes the country is headed in the wrong direction. It's a year that is tailor-made for an opposition candidate, a change election year.''