CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Amid a victory speech to local Republicans gathered in the Bellevue Tavern Tuesday night, Cape May County’s newly re-elected freeholder director happily announced a Republican landslide among county voters in a strongly divided presidential race.
“You know what’s magnificent?” Gerald R. Thornton said to roughly 100 attendees on Election night, Nov. 8. “Donald Trump’s going to win Cape May County.”
As applause broke out around 10 p.m. Tuesday, when results from across the country began to fall in Republican president-elect Donald Trump's favor, one man in attendance told Thornton it looked like the real estate mogul and reality television star would “win the whole thing.”
“But he’s going to win Cape May County,” Thornton responded.
Cape May County was one of nine New Jersey counties to vote in Trump’s favor, although Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won the state and its 14 electoral votes with 54.8 percent of the vote. In the early hours Wednesday morning, Trump was declared the country’s next president in a huge upset that embodied a deep anti-establishment movement among Americans, winning key swing states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Wisconsin en route to victory.
“In a blue state, we’re going to deliver Cape May County for Donald Trump,” County GOP Chairman Marcus Karavan told those in attendance. “We’re delivering red for Donald Trump in Cape May County.”
When Barrack Obama won presidential terms in 2008 and 2012, 53 percent of voters in the Republican-leaning county chose Obama’s Republican opponent. On Tuesday, Trump won the county with 57 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 38 percent, according to unofficial results.
At the Bellevue, suited-up attendees wore pins in support of Trump. Some wore hats, and a few sported T-shirts that displayed Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
For the third consecutive presidential election, about 70 percent of registered county voters came out to the polls, according to unofficial results from the county that did not yet include provisional ballots cast. Numbers last eclipsed 70 percent when 74 percent of voters here turned out in 2004, when George W. Bush narrowly defeated John Kerry to win a second term in the White House.
But County Clerk Rita Fulginiti said it felt like this election, particularly, piqued the county’s interest. Voters were also given a crowded ballot that included a congressional race, the freeholder election, two state ballot questions and local elections in several municipalities.
“The voter mania has been unexpected,” Fulginiti said around 8 p.m. Tuesday evening, adding that she believed the internet, social media and the polarizing nature of Tuesday’s presidential race triggered the high turnout. “I had to wait in line. We’re not used to that here.”
Asked where she thought Tuesday’s presidential race would go, Fulginiti forecast Trump’s big night in the county.
“Trump’s going to go big,” she said, before most of the national and local results were released. “We’re a very conservative voter base here in Cape May County. I could see Trump getting 60 percent to Hillary’s 40 percent.”
As results from across the country began to unfold on national television, even Thornton was surprised.
“I’m startled,” he said around 10 p.m., when Trump had an early lead in the electoral college and the advantage in Florida that ultimately yielded 29 electoral votes.
Thornton said he believes Trump “will clean out the swamp” in Washington, D.C., but he also said the election likely drew a lot of voters who didn’t feel overly confident about their choice for the country’s 45th president.
“A lot of people probably walked in, voted, and held their noses when they walked out,” he said.