Between classes and on the way to work, Super Tuesday brought young people out to vote in huge numbers. And among them, supporters of Barack Obama were easiest to find. Voters 18 to 33 were drawn to Obama because they thought he could unite a divided America â€” and for that matter, the world.
â€œIn the last seven years thereâ€™s been a gulf between our country and the rest of the
world,â€ said Steven Valentino, 23, who voted for Obama. â€œI think he would go a long way in repairing that.â€
If Obama won over the idealists, Clinton held sway among practical Democrats â€” especially those attracted to her health plan.
â€œShe is adamant about universal healthcare and getting problems solved,â€ said Stephanie Hernandez, 23, who recently lost her insurance under her parentsâ€™ plan.
The need for change in America, which both Barack and Clinton have interjected into their campaigns, especially resonated with young voters on Super Tuesday.
The hard-fought 2008 Democratic campaign, with its historic competition between a woman and an African-American man, has awakened a new generation to politics.
Though the voting statistics were just starting to come in for Super Tuesday, it was already clear that the youth vote had risen dramatically this year compared to 2004. It tripled in the Iowa caucuses and South Carolina primaries, where Obama won, and doubled in the New Hampshire primary, won by Clinton.
More than anything else, young people have responded to Obamaâ€™s campaign as a unifier. Miguel Negron, 25, said he was tired of the widening gap between Republicans and Democrats and believed that Obama could close the rift. â€œObama can be the type of president who can bring Americans of all different political backgrounds together,â€ he said.
Tim Oâ€™Brian, 21, went a step further and said that because the U.S. is a racially and ethnically diverse country, Obama would be a leader who represented the masses. â€œI think he could lean the country a bit more towards the left by not being too radical,â€ Oâ€™Brian said. â€œHeâ€™s not too liberal and not too conservative. I like the idea of unification.â€
It came as no surprise that many foreign-born New Yorkers, or those who travel abroad, were concerned about Americaâ€™s international reputation. Andrea Fazzari, 30, a photographer, travels extensively for work, said Obamaâ€™s ability to repair Americaâ€™s image abroad is what drove her to support his campaign. â€œI see whatâ€™s going on outside the U.S.,â€ she said. â€œWeâ€™ve gone so far downhill.â€
Despite the inspiration Obama excites in many first-time voters, Clintonâ€™s experience was far more important for those who voted for her. â€œItâ€™s a difficult choice for me because Obama is a truly contemporary candidate,â€ said 33-year-old Igor Siddiqui. â€œHeâ€™s the most global candidate that this country has ever seen. Heâ€™s far more reflective of my own background and place in the world.â€
But in the end, Siddiqui decided Clinton would do a better job as president.
Nationwide polls have shown Obama attracting more of the youth vote so far. But that did not persuade Matt Giordano, 22, a senior at Manhattan College to vote for him. Giordano remained loyal to Clinton because of her health care proposal.
Samantha Lowrie, 29, agreed. Each time she goes to the doctor for her yearly checkup, she said, she is billed nearly $1,000.
â€œHillary Clinton has the best plan to lead to universal health care,â€ said Lowrie.
Despite the close national contest, the 2008 campaign also stood out for its remarkable civility, at least among Obama and Clinton supporters. At heart, many Democrats seemed to like both Obama and Clinton.
Nicole Bouquio Negron, 24, voted for Clinton even though her husband is an Obama supporter.
â€œWe have different views,â€ Negron said. â€œI completely understand why he’s voting for Barack. We’ll definitely both vote for either Clinton or Obama in the general election.â€
Jason Baumgartner, 30, has an even better compromise, he suggests â€œeight years for Hillary and eight years for Barack.â€
(AnnMarie Costella, Caitlin Drexler, Shuka Kalantari, Daniel Macht, Rosaleen Ortiz, Mellissa Seechavan, Craig Thompson and Matthew Townsend contributed reporting.)