Sen. Barack Obama was drawing strong support across race and gender lines Tuesday in Virginia in a bold grab at some of the core backers of his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Obama was evenly splitting the state’s white vote with Clinton, according to prelimary figures from exit polls, a blow to the New York senator who has long held a clear advantage with that group. Until now, Clinton has gotten more than half their vote, allowing her to offset Obama’s huge margins with blacks.
Clinton was leading among white women, the heart of her electoral strength, but only by about 10 percentage points, according to the exit surveys, conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks. Obama countered that by enjoying about the same advantage with white men.
Clinton has usually run up margins of 20 points or more over Obama with white women in this year’s state presidential contests. Overall, the two had previously split white males evenly, according to data from exit polls from 19 states that have held competitive Democratic primaries this year.
In another raid on Clinton’s most pivotal supporters, Obama was getting votes from nearly six in 10 women of all races in Virginia and from two-thirds of men, according to the preliminary data. In previous Democratic presidential primaries, Clinton — the New York senator bidding to become the first female president — has routinely carried a steady majority of women while Obama has enjoyed support from slimmer majorities of males.
Obama had an even bigger margin among blacks than usual, as the Illinois senator seeking to become the first black president was winning support from nine in 10 of them in Virginia.
On the Republican side in Virginia, top contender John McCain was having big trouble with evangelical Christians and conservatives who make up a pivotal force within the GOP and the heart of the support behind his chief remaining rival, Mike Huckabee.
Four in 10 voters were white born again and evangelical Christians, according to preliminary exit poll data, a big increase from the state’s 2000 GOP presidential primary. Among them, seven in 10 were supporting Huckabee, preliminary exit poll results showed — about matching the Baptist minister’s best showing of the year with that group, which had occurred in his home state of Arkansas.
Huckabee was also getting more than half the votes of Virginia’s conservatives, including seven in 10 of those saying they are very conservative. Conservatives made up two-thirds of Virginia voters in the GOP contest. McCain had a two-to-one lead with moderates.
In Virginia’s Democratic race, Clinton’s strength was coming from whites calling themselves loyal Democrats, six in 10 of whom were behind her. Though that group made up the bulk of voters, six in 10 white independents were backing Obama, and that along with his overwhelming support from blacks was helping his prospects in the state.
Older whites were leaning Clinton’s way. But Obama was winning among all voters under age 60 — including getting three-quarters of those under age 30 — and was splitting those over age 60 of all races about evenly with Clinton.
As usual, Obama was getting huge support from people saying it is time for change, who made up more than half the Virginia Democratic vote. A fifth were seeking experience, and virtually all of them were backing Clinton.
The GOP race in Virginia had other surprises. In an unexpected showing of weakness for McCain, independents — a group the Arizona senator has dominated — were about evenly divided between him and Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor. People calling themselves loyal Republicans, who have previously given McCain a slight edge, were also split down the middle.
People who attend church more than once weekly were leaning heavily toward Huckabee.
In Maryland, eight in 10 Democrats said the country is ready for both a woman and a black president. Republicans there were about evenly split over whether they considered McCain to be conservative enough.
The figures came from partial samples of an exit poll conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International in 30 precincts each in Maryland and Virginia for the AP and television networks.
Those interviewed included 864 Virginia Democrats and 461 Virginia Republicans. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 5 percentage points for Democrats and plus or minus 7 percentage points for the state’s Republicans.
In Maryland, 790 Democrats were interviewed with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5 points, and 439 Republicans with a sampling error margin of 7 points.
AP Director of Surveys Trevor Tompson and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.