Obama expands base while Clinton fades

Barack Obama claimed major pieces of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s usual coalition as his own Tuesday, winning a majority of white and working-class people while splitting women’s votes in Wisconsin’s Democratic presidential primary, according to exit polls.

In a potent showing, the Illinois senator essentially split the votes of white women and lower-earning white workers with his rival, who had relied heavily on them until now. He also tightened his grip on groups he has dominated before, winning two-thirds of men and 70 percent of voters under age 30, according to surveys of voters leaving polling places across the state.

Obama was backed by six in 10 moderates and most loyal Democrats — groups that have been closely contested in past races — while expanding his decisive leads with independents and middle-aged, college-educated, high income and very liberal voters.

Among the few mainstays where Clinton remained strong were older voters and those looking for experience.

Underscoring Obama’s inroads, the two split those with no more than a high school diploma, whom Clinton has carried easily in most previous contests. They were also even among whites who have not finished college — a group she has dominated by nearly 30 percentage points among the 21 contested Democratic primaries held earlier.

Obama won among those earning less than $50,000 a year — and significantly, the two split the white vote in that income group, for one of his best showings of the year with them. In previous primaries, she led him among whites making that amount of money by 23 percentage points and had a narrow advantage with people of all races earning that amount.

Nine in 10 blacks backed Obama, similar to his usual margin with them. But they represented fewer than one in 10 voters in Wisconsin, meaning Obama had to do well with whites — which he did.

Clinton had a 22-percentage-point lead among white women in earlier primaries combined. Tuesday, she got 52 percent of their votes — a statistical tie with Obama. He also had a huge margin among young whites.

Two-thirds of men were supporting Obama, including nearly the same proportion of white men. That is a group Obama has done increasingly well with, especially since former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards left the race two weeks ago.

Almost six in 10 liberals and moderates supported Obama, another show of muscle among groups that usually tilt Clinton’s way.

Obama won among voters who said race and gender were not important in choosing a candidate, while Clinton led with those who considered sex significant. They were tied with those who said race was a factor.

In responses that might resonate as the campaign moves next to economically ailing Ohio, seven in 10 said U.S. trade takes more jobs from Wisconsin than it creates. Obama led with those voters. The economy was seen by Ohio Democrats as the country’s top problem, and Obama led with that group, too.

While eight in 10 Democrats said they would be satisfied if Obama were the nominee, seven in 10 said the same about Clinton.

Underscoring how the Democratic race was creating more interest than the all-but-decided Republican contest, Wisconsin’s independents — free to vote in either primary — opted for the Democratic contest by 2-to-1.

On the Republican side, Arizona Sen. John McCain made some gains with his party’s pivotal conservative voters but still has fences to mend.

Huckabee, as usual, did strongly with white, born-again and evangelical Christians, winning 60 percent of their votes. But they comprised only three in 10 voters in the GOP contest.

McCain won two-thirds of all other voters, including 58 percent of people calling themselves loyal Republicans, one of his best performances with them. Among independents — his usual strength — he attracted 47 percent of their votes, with Huckabee and Texas Rep. Ron Paul splitting the rest.

McCain and Huckabee evenly divided conservatives, a group McCain has struggled all year to win, but it was a better showing for him than usual. He won by almost 3-to-1 among moderates, a group that has strongly backed him.

The figures came from partial samples of an exit poll conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International in 35 precincts in Wisconsin for The Associated Press and television networks.

Those interviewed included 1,442 Democrats and 880 Republicans. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4 percentage points for Democrats and plus or minus 5 percentage points for Republicans.


AP Polling Director Mike Mokrzycki contributed to this report.