Tuesday's Democratic primaries told a tale of two states, with Southern whites overwhelmingly rejecting Barack Obama in Kentucky while an equally white electorate in Oregon brought differing political sensibilities – and an Obama victory – to the table.
Whites accounted for the vast majority of voters in both states, according to voter polls. But winning support from Southern whites remained a problem for Obama, in Kentucky as in West Virginia and elsewhere. His 50-point loss among Kentucky whites was second only to his losing margin among whites in Arkansas.
In Oregon, by contrast, Obama won white voters by 15 points, 57-42 percent, and non-whites (a mix of blacks, Latinos, Asians and others) by 62-38 percent. Whites in Oregon, compared with those in Kentucky, were better-educated, better-off financially and more apt to be political independents.
But Oregon whites also simply were better attuned to Obama – in terms of thinking he shares their values, in seeing him as honest, and in accepting his efforts to distance himself from his controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Obama was rated negatively on all these by majorities in Kentucky, and positively by majorities in Oregon.
Working-class (i.e. less educated) whites, consistently a better Clinton group, especially in Southern states, were far more dominant in Kentucky than in Oregon. They accounted for two-thirds of white voters in Kentucky, and backed Clinton by 4-1. Working-class whites in Oregon divided, 50 percent for Clinton, 49 percent for Obama.
But in Kentucky it wasn't just about the white working class; Clinton won college-educated whites in Kentucky as well, by less of a margin but nearly 2-1. Obama's problem was with these white voters overall. His greatest losses among whites, by 40 points or more, all have been in Southern states – Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia.
Reflecting their discomfort with Obama, nearly half of Kentucky Democrats said they would not support him in a November election against John McCain, again similar to the result in West Virginia. In Oregon, by contrast, only 12 percent said they wouldn't vote for Obama against McCain, as many as wouldn't support Clinton as the nominee.
As in West Virginia, among other states, there were indications of some racially motivated voting in Kentucky. Nearly two in 10 whites said race was an important factor in their vote, and nearly nine in 10 of them voted for Clinton. More strikingly, among those whites who called race a factor, just 29 percent said they'd support Obama if he's the nominee in November – the fewest to date in states where the question's been asked. Four in 10 said they'd support McCain; the rest wouldn't vote.
While Clinton complained Tuesday of sexism in the campaign, there have been fewer signs of anti-female voting. Across all primaries to date, men who said the candidate's sex was important in their vote have been more likely, not less so, to support Clinton.
At the same time, sex did differentiate the vote in Oregon, where Obama won men by 66-33 percent, but split women essentially evenly with Clinton, 52-48 percent. There was no such gap in Kentucky, with both sexes there heavily favoring Clinton.