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Huckabee tops Georgia GOP

Obama gets most from Democrats

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

ATLANTA (AP) _ Georgians flocked to the polls in what appeared to be record numbers to select a Baptist minister and a black U.S. senator as their nominees for president in Tuesday's primary contests.

Sen. Barack Obama, of Illinois, trounced Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic race, pulling overwhelming support from Georgia's large black population and showing surprising strength in rural areas and with white male voters in the state.

Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, edged out his GOP rivals — former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain, of Arizona — preaching a populist message that resonated with evangelical voters.

The election was the first in Georgia where voters were required to show photo IDs at the polls. There were reports of sporadic problems that caused long lines in some precincts fueled by the high turnout, computer glitches and ID checks.

The wide-open primaries generated intense interest in Georgia, which appeared to break its 20-year-old record for the number of people who cast ballots in such contests. With 98 percent of precincts reporting, more than 1.9 million votes had been tallied.

In all, residents in Georgia and 23 other states made their picks for Democratic and Republican presidential nominees Tuesday.

Obama had cultivated black support in Georgia, 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 is seeking to become the nation's first black president.

But his support in the state transcended skin color and age. He also won younger voters, and those of differing income levels.

His performance among white male voters suggested that he may have benefited from John Edwards' withdrawal from the Democratic race. White men made up the core of Edwards' support.

"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 who cast his ballot for Obama.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Obama had more than double the votes Clinton did. Obama had 66 percent of the vote to Clinton's 31 percent.

Clinton did win among white women and among voters older than 65, according to those surveys. And she made Obama work for the win with black voters. 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.

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."

On the Republican side, Huckabee eked out a hard-fought win in Georgia, the South's biggest Super Tuesday prize.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Huckabee had 34 percent of the vote, McCain had 32 percent and Romney had 30 percent.

Georgia, with its stalwart base of religious voters, had been critical for Huckabee. He cast himself as the champion of the "Wal-Mart Republican" rather than the "Wall Street" wing of the party represented by Romney.

Six in 10 GOP voters on Tuesday were white evangelicals and born-again Christians. Huckabee won four in 10 of their votes, according to surveys of voters as they left the polls.

Jeff Spencer was one of them. A Baptist minister in rural Bryan County east of Savannah, Spencer said social issues were his top concern.

"Before Huckabee came up, there wasn't a real conservative, Republican view in the race as far as the right wing goes," Spencer said.

 

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