McCain Soars; Democrats Sharply Divide

Republican John McCain won a sweeping victory on Super Tuesday even without winning the conservative base of his party, while Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama fought to a draw, virtually guaranteeing a long and sharply contested Democratic contest ahead.

The voting in the Republican primaries solidified McCain's position as the GOP front-runner and dramatically lengthened the odds against prime challenger Mitt Romney. At the same time, a surprisingly strong showing by Mike Huckabee in several Southern states underscored the continuing importance of evangelical Christians in the GOP.

Notably, though, McCain failed to make inroads among conservative Republicans at the heart of the Republican Party: More than six in 10 GOP primary voters said they were conservatives — and only 31 percent of them voted for McCain. Still, McCain's strong showing among independents and moderates, as well as his ability to attract crossover Democrats, could prove to be an advantage if he captures the nomination.

The Democratic voting, meanwhile, put into even sharper relief the divisions that have gripped the party since Obama established his credentials by winning Iowa. Clinton continued to do well among her core constituencies — women, Hispanics and the less affluent — while Obama consistently beat her among his core groups: blacks, the young and the more affluent, better educated voters.

For both sides, there was good news and bad. Clinton did well among Hispanics, particularly in vote-rich California, where she got 69 percent of the Hispanic vote, enough to counter Obama's overwhelming support among blacks and his win among white men there.

In California as nationally, Clinton won white women. But Obama won white men in five of the 16 states where exit polls were conducted, and split them with Clinton, 47 percent to 45 percent, in all primaries combined. Obama hadn't come out ahead among white men since Iowa and New Hampshire.

McCain was expected to do well, and he did — winning contests in nine states, including delegate-rich prizes such as California, New York, Illinois and his home state Arizona.

But Huckabee, a Baptist minister and former Arkansas governor, won five, all Southern states, all with remarkable levels of turnout among evangelical Christians. In Alabama, for example, evangelicals accounted for 77 percent of Republican voters; in Arkansas, 75 percent.

On the Democratic side, Clinton had led the national polls for more than a year, then had to push back hard as Obama gained momentum after the early primaries. Her efforts to get her core supporters to turnout made the difference in some key states, such as New Jersey, where she won women by 58 percent to 39 percent while running even with Obama among men.

Her lead was boosted by women's disproportionate turnout: Women made up 58 percent of the Democratic electorate, up from 52 percent in 1992 New Jersey Democratic primary, the last for which data are available.

Indeed, nationally, women accounted for 57 percent of all Democratic primary voters, favoring Clinton by 53 percent to 42 percent. Lower turnout on their part could have turned the tide for Obama in any number of states; he won men overall by 6 points, 50 percent to 44 percent.

Obama's "change" message continued to resonate loudly. Overall, 51 percent of Democratic voters said they cared most about supporting the candidate who can "bring about needed change," far more than picked other attributes — experience, 23 percent; empathy, 14 percent; best chance in November, 9 percent. And those "change" voters went hugely for Obama — he won them nationally by 66 percent to 31 percent.

There also was a striking division between Clinton and Obama in views of their qualifications to be commander in chief vs. perceptions of who'd do more to unite the country. Obama was seen as more likely than Clinton to unite the country, by 50 percent to 39 percent; but Democrats said Clinton was most qualified to be commander in chief, by a nearly identical 51 percent to 36 percent.

On issues, Clinton won economy voters — the top issue, cited by 48 percent — by 9 points. But Obama won voters more concerned about the war in Iraq — an issue on which he's sharply criticized Clinton's war authorization vote. Iraq War voters, 29 percent of Democrats, went to Obama by 53 percent to 42 percent.

For the Republicans, experience, plain-spokenness and electability were attributes on which McCain scored best around the country. But he fell short in the single most-desired attribute, the candidate who "shares my values." That group went to Romney, followed by Huckabee — with McCain finishing third in this top attribute.

That reflects Romney's better appeal among conservatives; nationally he won conservatives with 38 percent support, to McCain's 31 percent and Huckabee's 23 percent. Had Huckabee not been there to split conservatives with Romney, the outcomes may have been far different.

McCain actually won "somewhat" conservative voters, with 41 percent to Romney's 34 percent and Huckabee's 18 percent. His particular problem is with "very" conservative voters, 28 percent of all Republicans: Romney 43 percent, Huckabee 30, McCain just 19.

Compare that to McCain's support among moderate and the relatively few liberal Republicans: Fifty-three percent for McCain, 20 percent for Romney, 13 percent for Huckabee.

On the Democratic side, Clinton continued to do best by far among seniors, winning them by 56 percent to 33 percent over Obama, while he did best among young voters, winning under-30s by a 14-point margin, 56 percent to 42 percent. There were more seniors, but not by a wide margin — they accounted for 18 percent of voters, while under-30s accounted for 14 percent.

Obama also won the next-youngest age group, 30- to 44-year-olds, by 10 points; Clinton won 45- to 64-year-olds by 9 points.

Looking at Democratic age groups within the populations of white men and white women adds some texture. Clinton won white women overall by 59 percent to 35 percent; that rested most heavily on her huge advantage among women age 45 and older. Younger white women actually split slightly in Obama's favor — 51 percent for Obama, 46 percent for Clinton.

White men divided by age as well. As noted, overall they split 46 percent to 45 percent, Obama-Clinton. But while he won white men under 30 by a thumping 2-1 margin, 62 percent to 33 percent, older white men, age 65 and up, actually went for Clinton, 52 percent to 33 percent.

EVANGELICALS — As noted, evangelicals sent forth a reminder of their clout in the GOP. They accounted for 77 percent of all Republican voters in Alabama, more than seven in 10 in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee, 62 percent in Georgia — and, outside the South, evangelicals made up 55 percent of voters in Missouri (where McCain won a close contest).

In many of those states where evangelicals predominated, Huckabee won. In Alabama, he got 47 percent of the evangelical vote to McCain's 35 percent. His biggest margin among evangelicals was in his home state of Arkansas, where he beat McCain more than 4-1.

But evangelicals were not monolithic: Elsewhere Romney and even McCain won the biggest share of their votes. In Illinois, where evangelicals made up 41 percent of voters, McCain won with 38 percent, beating Huckabee (28 percent) and Romney (27 percent) alike.

In all GOP primaries combined, evangelicals — 43 percent of voters — split 36 percent for Huckabee, 30 percent for McCain and 26 percent for Romney.

A Sample of States

CALIFORNIA — On the Republican side, McCain's core constituencies led him to victory in the most populous state in the nation.

Moderates, three in 10 voters in the California Republican primary, went for McCain by almost a 3-1 ratio over Romney. Independents also overwhelmingly chose McCain (47 percent vs. 22 percent for Romney). McCain won, but narrowly, among mainline Republicans, 39 percent to 34 percent.

Romney won among "very" conservative Californians (who were about a quarter of all voters), but McCain beat Romney among the "somewhat conservatives," who made up a larger share of the voters, 35 percent.

Unlike most states, where the economy dominated as the top issue, among California Republicans it ran just slightly ahead of immigration (33 percent called the economy their top issue; 29 percent, immigration). There was a sharp difference in vote preference among these two groups: a 21-point lead for McCain among economy voters; a 20-point lead for Romney among those who cited immigration as their top issue.

Among Democrats, Clinton owed her California victory to Hispanics, who turned out in record numbers — 29 percent of primary voters were Hispanic; they'd never before exceeded 17 percent in a California Democratic primary — and supported Clinton by more than 2-1 over Obama. She needed every one of those votes to counter Obama's narrow advantage among whites (45 percent to 42 percent) and his lopsided support among blacks.

Obama ran particularly strongly among white men, beating Clinton by a surprising 52 percent to 34 percent in California, while losing to Clinton among white women, 55 percent to 34 percent. She won women overall, by a comfortable 59 percent to 34 percent.

Clinton also cut into one of Obama's strongest groups — younger voters — claiming 51 percent of those 18-29, while Obama received 47 percent of that group. And about eight in 10 California Democratic primary voters were rank-and-file Democrats, as opposed to independents, a better Obama group. Those mainline Democrats went solidly for Clinton, 57 percent to 36 percent.

MISSOURI — The Missouri Democratic race remained too close to call Tuesday night, as Obama and Clinton matched each other strength for strength in this key Midwestern state. Change was the primary attribute voters were looking for in a candidate — 55 percent saying so — and Obama beat Clinton by 2-1 among them, 65 percent to 33 percent.

But two in 10 said they were looking mainly for experience, and Clinton dominated on this quality, taking nine in 10, her strongest showing among "experience" voters so far this season. Clinton and Obama split voters focused on a candidate who "cares about people like me."

Younger voters broadly supported Obama, 65 percent to 30 percent. But Clinton came back as strongly among seniors, who made up 19 percent of voters, 63 percent to 32 percent.

Black turnout was about where it was in previous Missouri Democratic primaries, 17 percent of voters, and Obama won 84 percent of them. But Clinton did well with white women, winning them by 59 percent to 38 percent.

Obama challenged Clinton among mainline Democrats, who predominated in Missouri as elsewhere; they accounted for 73 percent of voters and broke 50 percent for Clinton and 47 percent for Obama. Obama won independents — 22 percent of voters — by better than 2-1.

Among Republicans, McCain defeated Huckabee and Romney in Missouri in one of the closest primary races of the night. In the end it may have been the issue of the Iraq War that gave McCain the edge.

Among the 44 percent of voters who said the economy was the country's most important problem, the candidates were about tied. But among the 20 percent of voters citing the war in Iraq, the second most important issue, McCain captured 46 percent of their vote, compared to only 27 percent for Huckabee.

Huckabee pulled in nearly twice as many evangelicals in Missouri as McCain (41 percent to 24 percent, with 30 percent for Romney). McCain won non-evangelicals by the same margin.

Huckabee also easily won voters who said they cared most about a candidate who shares their values; as elsewhere, it was the top attribute. And Huckabee won decisively in Missouri among voters who decided on Election Day; there just weren't quite enough of them for him to take the race from McCain.

ALABAMA — Evangelicals delivered the win for Huckabee in Alabama; he won them, by 12 points, and when a group accounts for three-quarters of voters, that'll do it.

Huckabee also beat McCain by 9 points among conservatives, and by more among "very" conservative voters, 46 percent to 29 percent. McCain won moderates, 50 percent to 31 percent, but they made up only 21 percent of voters.

More than half — 53 percent — of all GOP primary voters in Alabama said it was most important that a candidate shares their values, again the top attribute by far, and Huckabee did particularly well here, beating McCain by 33 points.

McCain did better among those looking for the right experience, beating Romney by 68 percent to 21 percent, but they made up only 19 percent of all voters. Surprisingly, Huckabee narrowly beat McCain among those who preferred straight talk, 41 percent to 36 percent — this worked better for McCain elsewhere, but not so in the Bible Belt.

On the Democratic side, black voters made up 51 percent of the primary electorate — a record share of the primary vote for blacks in Alabama, double their share in 1992 — and their overwhelming support for Obama made up for Clinton's strength among white women and white men alike.

As for questions about who would attract the white men who made up the base of John Edwards' support in South Carolina, Clinton won white men, 70 percent to 27 percent. Clinton won seniors by a substantial margin, but Obama won every other age group. And half of Alabama Democrats were looking for a candidate who would bring needed change, and as elsewhere Obama dominated this group, capturing three in four of their votes.

ACROSS PARTIES — Compared across parties, exit poll results in all the primaries combined served as a reminder of some of the differences between Democratic and Republican primary voters.

Democrats, predominantly female; Republicans, predominantly male.

Democrats, including sizable numbers of blacks and Hispanics; Republicans, much less so.

Democrats, 50 percent liberal; Republicans, 63 percent conservative.

Democrats, notably less well off financially. Republicans, much more apt to attend church weekly.

As will be particularly apparent when the parties choose their nominees and the general election campaign gets under way, there are big differences in the parties' profiles. But first they have to sort our their intramural differences, a process that, for the Democrats, still looks to have a long way to play.

Analysis by Rich Morin, Gary Langer, Claudia Deane, Peyton Craighill, Mollyann Brodie, Bob Shapiro, Pat Moynihan and Brian Hartman.