Working class whites backed Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton showed renewed strength Tuesday in Texas and Ohio among whites and working-class voters who had begun deserting her in recent contests, early results from exit polls in the states showed.

With her back against the wall in a pair of contests that seemed virtually must-win, the New York senator seemed to be limiting Barack Obama to groups that have supported his candidacy from the start of this year’s Democratic presidential contest.

The Illinois senator was getting overwhelming support from blacks, young voters and the college educated. But his recent inroads into some of her core support groups, at least for now, seemed to be limited.

In part, Clinton was benefiting from disproportionate support from voters who picked their candidates in the past week — a period that has seen her aggressively accuse her rival of inexperience. In Texas, nearly six in 10 voters who recently made their choices were supporting Clinton, and nearly the same were doing so in Ohio.

The two candidates were evenly splitting the earlier deciders in both states.

In both states, Clinton was even showing signs of eating into pivotal sources of Obama’s support. They were equally dividing independent voters — whom Obama has dominated — and liberals, another group that has tilted toward him.

Six in 10 whites were backing Clinton in Ohio and almost that many were behind her in Texas. Obama had edged her among those voters in recent primaries in Virginia and Wisconsin in a campaign that has seen some racial polarization since January, following sharp exchanges between the two campaigns.

Hispanics were voting in force in Texas, making up almost a third of voters — up from the quarter they comprised in the state’s Democratic primary in 2004. Almost two-thirds were supporting Clinton, their usual margin for her. They were negligible in Ohio.

In both states, more than eight in 10 blacks were backing Obama, the margin they have shown in most contests. They comprised about one in five voters in both states.

Clinton was also performing strongly with blue-collar Democrats. Those with no more than high school diplomas were backing her in Ohio and Texas by six in 10 margins. College graduates — a longtime source of Obama’s strength — were behind him almost as solidly.

Workers earning less than $50,000 a year were leaning slightly toward Clinton in Ohio, and were about evenly split in Texas. People earning more than $100,000 annually were heavily skewed toward Obama, as they have been all year.

Before Tuesday, Obama had outdone Clinton in the last four contests — Wisconsin, Virginia, Maryland and Louisiana — among voters who had not gone beyond high school and those earning less than $50,000.

Clinton also was earning strong support from people worried about their families’ incomes. Ohio has seen large job losses in recent years, and Texas has seen problems with declining real estate values.

As usual, younger voters were leaning decisively toward Obama, while the oldest were backing Clinton.

In both states, voters who said gender was an important factor in their decision leaned toward Clinton, who would be the first female president. With Obama trying to become the first black president, about one in five voters in each state said race was an important factor. Those voters split evenly between Obama and Clinton in Texas, but leaned toward Clinton in Ohio.

Clinton’s strengths were highlighted in Rhode Island, which also voted Tuesday.

Preliminary exit polls showed that Clinton led strongly there among whites, women, older, less educated and lower-earning voters, while Obama was doing well with those under age 30 and people unhappy with the war in Iraq. The two were about even among independents, but she won among college graduates, a group that usually is staunchly behind Obama.

In liberal Vermont, the fourth state with a primary Tuesday, the voters divided differently. Obama performed with overwhelming strength: He won among white women, the lowest-earning voters and other groups Clinton relies on, according to exit polls of Vermont Democratic voters.

On the Republican side, the evening was mostly a show of strength for John McCain, who won enough delegates to clinch his party’s presidential nomination. In Ohio and Texas, he won majorities among those calling themselves loyal Republicans. He also prevailed among conservatives in Ohio, though he and Mike Huckabee, who dropped out Tuesday, divided them about evenly in Texas. The two split white evangelical and born-again Christians in the two states.

There was not enough data on Republicans in Vermont and Rhode Island, two heavily Democratic states, to provide meaningful information about their voting behavior.

The figures were from partial statewide samples of voters in 40 precincts each in Ohio and Texas and 20 each in Rhode Island and Vermont, plus a telephone survey of early voters in Texas. The fieldwork was conducted by Edition Media Research and Mitofsky International.

Sample sizes ranged from 716 voters in Ohio’s Republican primary, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points, to 2,009 in the Texas Democratic contest, where the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3 points.