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Exit polls for Potomac primaries show support for Obama ran wide

  • Story Highlights
  • Obama support broad in Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., primaries
  • Illinois senators polls well among young voters, independents, African-Americans
  • Obama also edges Clinton among groups the New York senator counts on
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Illinois Sen. Barack Obama pulled support from virtually all sectors of the voting public Tuesday on his way to defeating rival Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., Democratic primaries, according to CNN exit polling.

Obama was expected to poll well among young voters, independents and African-Americans, and he did -- taking 60 to 70 percent of the votes in the first two groups and nearly 90 percent of black voters, the polls suggest.

But he also was edging out Clinton among voters 65 and older, blue-collar workers and women, all groups that Clinton was counting on as the core of her support.

Early exit polling by CNN was done with a sample of 1,246 Democratic voters in Virginia. Among those polled, Obama was winning with 62 percent of the vote to Clinton's 37 percent. In Maryland, 1,245 voters were polled, and Obama won among them, 62 percent to 35 percent.

CNN did not conduct exit polling in Washington, D.C. Video Watch Obama take his message to Wisconsin »

Voters who described themselves as independents made up 22 percent of those who cast a ballot in Virginia's Democratic primary and 13 percent in Maryland, according to the polling. Those voters favored Obama by a margin of 66 percent to 33 percent in Virginia and 68 to 24 in Maryland.

Virginia has an open primary system that allows voters to choose a primary without declaring themselves a member of either party.

"Obama is drawing a lot of independents -- that is a legitimate claim," said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. "But to suggest that an enormous number of Republicans are changing party registrations and coming to his banner just isn't true."

But there was a slight uptick in what the Illinois senator has dubbed "Obamacans" on Tuesday. Seven percent of voters in the Virginia primary described themselves as Republicans -- and 70 percent of those polled voted for Obama.

According to CNN exit polling, 3 percent of people who voted in Democratic primaries on Super Tuesday described themselves as Republicans -- most of them backing Obama. That same percentage of Maryland voters in Tuesday's Democratic contest identified themselves with the GOP.

Just shy of 90 percent of Tuesday's black voters polled said they voted for Obama, a native of Hawaii whose father is Kenyan and mother is from Kansas. African-Americans made up 29 percent of voters in the Democratic primary, according to the early polling.

And young voters flocked to the Obama campaign, the polls suggest. Seventy-five percent of poll respondents under 30 and 67 percent of those under 45 voted for him in Virginia. Those numbers were 68 percent and 71 percent in Maryland.

However, Obama also edged Clinton -- 52-47 -- among voters over 60 in Virginia and 50 percent of those voters in Maryland, compared with 46 percent for Clinton.

And he split white votes about 50-50 with Clinton in both states -- edging her 50-49 in Virginia and trailing 51-46 in Maryland. That's a big change from previous contests in which Clinton held a big lead over Obama among white Democrats.

"We haven't seen that happen this strikingly before, and this in a Southern state," said CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

Older voters, women, Hispanics and working-class voters are the core the Clinton campaign has said are backing her in the Democratic primaries -- along with those who feel her experience makes her the best suited to handle international affairs.

"She'll be able to block the national security card from being played," Mark Penn, Clinton's chief strategist, said Monday night. "She'll have a stronger appeal to voters who will make a difference in the general election, and she is ready and able to take on Sen. McCain." Video Watch Clinton look forward to the Ohio primaries »

While national polls suggest Clinton remains strong on those fronts, Tuesday's polling results didn't bear that out.

In Virginia, Obama led Clinton 59 to 41 percent among the women who were polled. He also took 57 percent of the votes of respondents who said they earn less than $50,000 a year and 59 percent of those who said someone in their household is a member of a union.

Among those voters in Maryland, 59 percent of women backed Obama, 65 percent of those making less than $50,000 voted for him and 61 percent of those in union households supported him.

He was the winner among respondents who said the economy, the Iraq war or health care -- a trademark issue for Clinton -- was the most important issue to them.

"This is the new American majority," Obama said at a rally in Madison, Wisconsin, where he declared victory in the three contests. "This is what change looks like from the bottom up." Video Watch Obama speak in Wisconsin after his victories »

In Virginia, Clinton took an overwhelming 96 percent of the support from voters who said experience was the most important quality a candidate should have. In Maryland, that number was 91 percent.

Not enough Hispanic voters were polled to make the results meaningful.

The projected wins continue an impressive run of victories for Obama -- who swept Clinton in five contests over the weekend and scored in several key states to hang close with her in February 5 Super Tuesday voting.

But Clinton -- the Democrats' presumptive front-runner for months -- scored victories in key states like New York and California on that day.

Her campaign had worked to tamp down expectations for Tuesday's races, saying they're banking on upcoming primaries in delegate-rich states like Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania to bounce her back to a solid lead.

At stake in Tuesday's three contests are 168 Democratic delegates.

Clinton and Obama began the day in a virtual dead heat. In total delegates, Obama now tops Clinton 1,208 to 1,185, including superdelegates, according to CNN estimates.

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Obama also leads 1,052 to 951 in pledged delegates -- people who can't change their minds at this year's Democratic convention.

But Clinton is winning 234 to 156 among superdelegates -- current and past Democratic politicians and other party officials who promise their vote to one candidate or the other, but have the right to change their minds. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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