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Obama wins, GOP race too tight to call

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POSTED: February 21, 2008 5:00 a.m.

ATLANTA -- Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama's message of change resonated with voters in Georgia, where he rode a wave of support from blacks and young people to a dominating win over rival Hillary Rodham Clinton in Tuesday's primary.

On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee were locked in a three-way contest that was too close to call more than three hours after polls closed. Huckabee had 35 percent of the vote, McCain 32 percent and Romney 29 percent with more than 70 percent of the state's precincts reporting.

The primaries generated intense interest in Georgia, which appeared to break its 20-year-old record for the number of people who cast ballots. With more than 70 percent of precincts reporting, nearly 1.4 million votes had been tallied.

Obama had cultivated black support in the state, speaking from the pulpit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s church the day before the federal holiday honoring the slain civil right leader. Blacks comprise about half of the Democratic primary vote in Georgia, and exit poll data showed that nearly 90 percent of them voted for Obama, who's seeking to become the nation's first black president.

"Obama is just better because he makes people, like myself, get up and want to do something positive," said Felix Omigie, a black 42-year-old truck driver from Riverdale. "I can see that he is trying to tap more into the younger generation. He can relate to them."

The Associated Press made its call in the Democratic contest based on surveys of voters as they left the polls. With more than 70 percent of the state's precincts reporting, Obama had 63 percent of the vote compared to Clinton's 34 percent.

Clinton did win among white women and among voters older than 65. Obama held his own against the former first lady with white men, according to the exit poll data. But Clinton made him work for the win. The former first lady had the backing of prominent black leaders such as Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights hero, and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young.

"What we're seeing is a groundswell of support and a number of people willing to break with the old traditions," said William Jelani Cobb, a history professor at Spelman College and an Obama supporter.

Many voters in Georgia said Tuesday they were moved by Obama's message more than his skin color.

"I think Clinton, she just polarizes people. She and Bill make a bad combination as far as trying to bring us into a new era of American politics," said Chip Harris, a white, 33-year-old executive from Savannah.

Jacqueline Jenkins, 42, a black administrative assistant and part-time college student who voted outside Albany, said race was not a factor for her.

"I didn't want to vote for Obama just because he was black," Jenkins said. "I didn't want to vote for Hillary just because she's a woman. I think both bring a lot to the table. I just think Obama would be a better choice."

The election was the first statewide in which Georgia required a photo identification of all voters casting their ballots in person. Some sporadic problems were reported, in part because people could not wait out delays caused by the ID checks before they had to leave for work.

On the GOP side, six in 10 voters were white evangelical and born-again Christian. Huckabee, the Baptist minister, was winning four in 10 of their votes, exit polls showed.

 

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