By Donald Wittkowski 

With a hard-fought presidential race topping the ballot, Tuesday’s election generated heavy voter turnout in the traditional Republican stronghold of Cape May County.

Figures released by the Cape May County Clerk’s Office showed there was a 70 percent turnout among the county’s nearly 71,000 registered voters.

“People really wanted to vote in this election,” Cape May County Clerk Rita Marie Fulginiti said.

Atlantic County’s voter turnout was not as strong, despite key races in a number of towns, including a battle for four City Council seats in Somers Point.

Just 62 percent of Atlantic County’s 174,257 registered voters cast ballots, according to unofficial returns posted on the county website.

Fulginiti said intense interest in the combative presidential race between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton fueled the big turnout in Cape May County. She called it “voter mania.”

About 7,000 mail-in votes were issued in Cape May County, the most ever for the county, Fulginiti said.

Trump captured 58 percent of the vote in Cape May County, compared to just 38 percent for Clinton. In Atlantic County, Clinton grabbed 51 percent of the vote, while Trump had 45 percent.

Cape May County Republican Chairman Marcus Karavan said he believed the county’s high voter turnout underscored overwhelming support for Trump.

“Clearly, Trump generated a lot of excitement, and the people turned out,” Karavan said.

According to Karavan, Trump’s election as the 45th president of the United States symbolizes the country’s desire for a “new direction.”

“I’m happy we have a new president,” he said.

Reflecting its conservative Republican voter base, Cape May County supported both GOP candidates who were defeated by President Barack Obama in the 2008 and 2012 elections.

John McCain garnered 53 percent of the vote in Cape May County in 2008, compared to 45 percent for Obama. In the 2012 presidential race, Mitt Romney won 54 percent of the county’s vote, while Obama had 45 percent, Fulginiti said.

The 2008 election produced a 78 percent voter turnout in Cape May County, but the figure dropped to 61 percent in the 2012 race.

“In 2008, with Obama, people were mesmerized by his message,” Fulginiti explained of the heavy turnout then.

Of Cape May County’s 70,801 registered voters, 28,098 are Republicans and 15,633 are Democrats. The remaining 27,070 voters are unaffiliated.

In the past 40 years, only two Democrats have been elected to the Cape May County freeholder board. Incumbent Republican Freeholders Gerald Thornton and E. Marie Hayes easily won re-election Tuesday night against their Democratic challengers, cementing Republican control of the five-member board.