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Louisiana voters have their say in primary

  • Story Highlights
  • Louisiana voters of both presidential parties name the economy as their top issue
  • GOP voters looking for strong experience pick Sen. McCain, exit polls show
  • Voters in Democratic primary for whom experience is key pick Sen. Clinton
  • Polls: Hurricane Katrina had stronger effect on Democrats than it did on Republicans
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(CNN) -- Louisiana Republicans looking for a candidate who shares their values or says what he believes cast their ballots for former Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee during Saturday's GOP primary, exit polls showed.

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Poll worker Sheila Alfred-Jacobs looks on as Charnisha Thomas signs in during Louisiana's primary Saturday.

Those looking for strong experience in a president, on the other hand, tapped Sen. John McCain.

On the Democratic side, voters looking for change picked Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

But if experience was key, Sen. Hillary Clinton was the candidate of choice, the polls indicated.

Louisiana voters of both parties said the economy was their top issue, just as voters have done in every primary so far.

But Republicans generally had a rosier view of the current national status -- a change from earlier primaries when Republican pessimism about the economy trumped optimism by about a 2-to-1 margin.

Republican voters were evenly split over the current status of the U.S. economy. Democrats, however, were overwhelmingly pessimistic, with 88 percent saying the economy was "not good" or "poor."

A third of the GOP voters said the economy was their chief concern, with illegal immigration (24 percent), the war in Iraq (20 percent) and terrorism (17 percent) trailing.

Almost half of the Democrats named the economy as their top concern, with the Iraq war and health care splitting the rest.

Hurricane Katrina had a stronger effect on Democrats than it did on Republicans, according to the survey results. More than two-thirds of Republicans said the 2005 storm caused no hardship in their lives, while 44 percent of Democrats said that it did.

Huckabee was looking for another Southern win after picking up four Southern states on Super Tuesday -- along with evidence he may be benefiting from Mitt Romney's decision this week to suspend his campaign.

Huckabee picked up all 36 GOP delegates in Kansas Saturday, handily beating McCain in that state's caucuses with 60 percent of the vote to McCain's 24 percent.

He still trails McCain in delegates 714-214 -- and McCain is just over 400 votes shy of securing the nomination.

But McCain has run afoul of many conservative voters, who object to his stands on illegal immigration and campaign finance reform. Those voters have typically sided with Romney in the early contests. With Romney out of the race, Huckabee was hoping to pick up those voters.

Kansas was one "of the contests where we've gone head-to-head with Sen. McCain," Huckabee told reporters after the results were in. "When we've done that, we have overwhelming conservative votes."

In Louisiana, early exit polls show nearly half of the state's Republican voters consider themselves "very conservative," and more than half of those went for Huckabee with McCain picking up less than a third. And among born-again or evangelical Christians, Huckabee bested McCain by a 57-33 percent margin.

But the 26 percent of voters who said they were "somewhat conservative" were evenly split between the two, at 44 percent each. McCain polled better among voters with a negative view of the Bush administration.

Louisiana Republicans by a narrow 36 to 34 percent thought McCain could best handle the economy, and the scaled tipped further to the former Navy pilot (51 percent to 30 percent) on which candidate was most qualified to be commander in chief of the U.S. armed services.

Obama was the big winner Saturday, sweeping four Democratic contests -- caucuses in Washington, Nebraska and the Virgin Islands and the Louisiana primary -- and the first-term senator wasted no time targeting his second-term colleague, the former first lady.

"The stakes are too high and the challenges are too great to play the same old Washington game with the same old Washington players and expect a different result," Obama told a hugely pro-Obama crowd of Democrats at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Richmond, Virginia.

"People want to turn the page. They want to write a new chapter in American history.

"And today, voters from the West Coast to the Gulf Coast to the heart of America stood up to say 'Yes, we can.' We won in Louisiana, we won in Washington state. We won north, we won south, we won in between. And I believe that we can win in Virginia on Tuesday if you're ready to stand for change."

Like Huckabee, Obama has also run strong in the South -- losing to Clinton only in Arkansas so far, where her husband former President Bill Clinton was governor for more than a decade. The Illinois senator has won in the South on the strength of the African-American vote and the youth vote -- and those trends continued in Louisiana, the exit polls showed. Video Watch Obama campaign in New Orleans »

Two-thirds of voters under 45 went for Obama, although the two senators split the votes of the 18-24 set, with Obama taking 50 percent to Clinton's 49. Eighty-two percent of the black vote went to Obama, while 70 percent of the white vote went to Clinton.

Independents in Louisiana also polled for Obama 51 to 44 percent, according to the exit polls.

More than half of the Louisiana Democrats said ability to bring change was the key quality they looked for in a presidential candidate, and three-quarters of those voters chose Obama. Eighty-seven percent of the 19 percent looking for an experienced candidate chose Clinton.

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Obama has also polled well in caucus states, and that trend continued Saturday with wins in Nebraska and Washington state. Obama took about two-thirds of the delegate equivalents in both states.

Obama and Clinton are neck-and-neck in the Democratic nomination process. The former first lady has 1,063 delegates to Obama's 962, both around half-way to the number of delegates needed to win the nomination. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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