SVERDLOVSK, U.S.S.R. -- Hometown supporters of Boris Yeltsin in Russia's industrial heartland praised their hero Wednesday as just the man to rescue the country from further collapse.
Voters in Sverdlovsk said Yeltsin, the odds-on favorite to become the Russian Federation's first popularly elected president, epitomized the Ural Mountains region from which he hailed: rugged, independent and straight-talking.
'Yeltsin is the most worthy,' said Alexei Fevralyov, a 27-year-old trumpet player at the Sverdlovsk Opera and Ballet. 'He's a very substantial person. He doesn't promise anything he can't make good on.'
Yeltsin was born in 1931 to a farmer's family in the village of Butka outside Sverdlovsk and ran the regional Communist Party from 1976 until Mikhail Gorbachev summoned him to Moscow in 1985.
Partly because of Yeltsin's influence, Sverdlovsk has emerged as one of the most radical pro-reform centers in the country. It joined Moscow and Leningrad in voting against preserving the Soviet Union in a March referendum that won overall.
The candidate returned home Sunday to a roaring welcome on one of the last stops on his final two-week campaign tour of Russia.
'Our whole lives have been tied to Yeltsin,' said retired economist Glafira Starsanova. 'He's done so much for us.'
Starsanova, 67, said it was typical of Yeltsin's concern for the common person that her monthly pension increased from $43 to $74 after Yeltsin became chairman of the Russian republic's legislature last year.
'Today is a holiday,' she said. 'I bought a new dress so that I could go and vote for Boris Nikolaiovich (Yeltsin).'
Other supporters cited the Russian government's repeal of Gorbachev's 5 percent 'presidential' sales tax, movement toward land reform and attempts to remove Communist Party cells from the army, Interior Ministry and KGB as signs of Yeltsin's populist bent.
Hometown favorite Yeltsin's candidacy in the unprecedented elections for Russia's leader drew a heavy turnout in Sverdlovsk, the country's 10th largest city with 1.4 million people and hub of the key industrial Ural region.
Viktor Chupriyanov, a member of the Sverdlovsk regional election commission, said more than half the area's 2.5 million eligible voters had cast ballots by 3 p.m., seven hours before the polls closed.
Maya Durimanova, head of Voting Station No. 2 at the Sverdlov House of Culture, said 70 percent of the district's 2,620 voters had cast ballots by 4 p.m.
'It's a very high turnout this time, more than any other election,' she said. 'The elections are so interesting -- choosing a president from multiple candidates in a general election. It's the first time we have ever had that.'
The simple black and white ballot listed Yeltsin and five other candidates, including former Soviet Premier Nikolai Ryzhkov and fired Interior Minister Vadim Bakatin along with their running mates.
Voters at Durimanova's polling station pulled aside red curtains to enter wooden booths, marked their ballots, opened blue curtains to leave the booth from the opposite side and dropped the ballots in wooden urns bearing a metal hammer and sickle seal of the Soviet government.
Durimanova said the Soviet seals were the only ones available and she apologized for the red curtains, saying they did not symbolize Communist power but also were the only ones available.
Direct campaigning was prohibited throughout Russia on the day of elections, but Yeltsin posters were displayed in numerous Sverdlovsk shop windows.
Alya Tanachova directed Yeltsin's local campaign headquarters from a small room on the fourth floor of the Sverdlovsk City Council, surrounded by stacks of campaign brochures and posters with photographs of Yeltsin taped to the walls. A brass band played in a small park outside the window.
Tanachova and three aides monitored election reports on Radio Russia, set up last year under Yeltsin's leadership, and fielded phone calls from observers at 580 voting stations around Sverdlovsk.
The 56-year-old campaign worker said she and her aides had not had to use three cars standing at the ready to speed to sites of voting irregularities.
'We are here in case there are any serious violations, but so far everything is going very smoothly,' Tanachova said.
Deputy Sergei Ivanov, a strong Yeltsin supporter in the Russian legislature, said Yeltsin would draw at least 70 percent of the vote in Sverdlovsk.
Several dozen interviews in the city produced only two dissenters who did not support Yeltsin. Both were military men.
'I voted for the candidate who wants to preserve political stability,' said one of them, Col. Yuri Sabayev, 52. 'I voted for Bakatin.'
Sabayev accused Yeltsin of 'changing his stripes' last year when he quit the Soviet Communist Party and criticized his intermittent sniping with Gorbachev.
'All right, maybe we don't like Gorbachev,' Sabayev said. 'But as long as he is president he should be respected and I don't see any respect from Yeltsin.'
Many people in Sverdlovsk wrinkled up their faces in confusion when asked who they supported, as if they simply could not understand any choice other than Yeltsin.
Maria Votekova, 70, recalled how she went to Yeltsin in desperation a decade ago after he began holding open office hours for the public on Fridays, an unheard of practice for a party leader.
Votekova said she had worked her way up a bureaucratic ladder in trying to get a new residence permit to move her aged mother from one village outside Sverdlovsk to another.
'I went to my local party office, then to the city branch, but nobody would help me,' she said. 'Finally I went to Yeltsin, and he helped me.'