MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Mike Huckabee turned out evangelical voters and Barack Obama captured black and young voters as both won in Alabama's presidential primaries Tuesday.
Exit polling from the Republican primary showed Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, defeating Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who ran third. Huckabee, with strong appeal to fellow Southern Baptists, earlier won his home state and Georgia.
Exit polling and early returns also showed Obama, the Illinois senator, defeating New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, who did not visit Alabama during the closing days of the primary.
Paul Reynolds, co-chairman of Huckabee's Alabama campaign, said Huckabee made two trips to Alabama in the closing stretch — more than any other candidate — and that helped show Alabama Republicans that they had much in common with him.
"The candidate is a direct reflection of Republicanism in Alabama," Reynolds said.
Reynolds said another major factor in Huckabee's success was his endorsement of the immigration plan by U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
Attorney General Troy King, who headed McCain's campaign in Alabama, held out hope McCain would pull it out because early returns showed the race closer than the exit polls.
The state's chief election official, Secretary of State Beth Chapman, said the turnout for Alabama's first early presidential primary in 20 years appeared higher than the normal in some counties she visited Tuesday. She was optimistic Alabama would top 30 percent. The normal for a primary is 20 percent to 25 percent for a primary.
The Legislature moved Alabama's primary to early in the campaign season for the first time since 1988. The last four presidential primaries in Alabama have been in June, when the outcome was already known.
More than 58,000 new voters signed up in the three months leading up to Super Tuesday, prompting election officials to prepare for a better-than-average turnout.
Temperatures across the state were spring-like in the 70s and low 80s. Rain, which was forecast for part of the state, held off in most places until after the polls closed at 7 p.m.
Across Alabama, about half of the Democratic voters were black, and Obama won 80 percent of their votes. Exit polling also showed he captured 60 percent of the votes from people under 30, who made up more than one in 10 voters.
Tobias Wilson, a 20-year-old football player at predominantly black Miles College in Birmingham, cast his first presidential vote for Obama.
"He gives a lot of African-Americans hope," Wilson said.
Obama also got some unexpected votes.
Julie Speaks, a 43-year-old white preschool director in Montgomery, said she normally votes Republican but she supported Obama in the Democratic primary because she dislikes Clinton.
"To be honest, I think the Democrats are going to take the White House this time, and I really don't want to see the Clintons in the White House again," she said.
Nina Patel, a 39-year-old housewife from Montgomery, went for Clinton.
"I think America should be ready for a woman leader. If you look at a lot of the past history when you had female leaders, I think they did a lot for their counties," said Patel, who's of Indian ancestry.
In exit polling on the the Republican side, nearly eight in 10 Republican voters described themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians, and nearly half of them sided with Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist preacher.
Among them was Jeff McFarland, a 42-year-old Southern Baptist missionary from Montgomery.
"My main issue was where they stand on the Lord and conservative versus liberal. I'm conservative," McFarland said.
McCain's military background won him some votes in a state that has been among the top states in sending military to Iraq and Afghanistan.
"He's a veteran and so am I," said Chester Malinowski, a 70-year-old Montgomery retiree who served with the 101st Airborne.
On the Republican side, the candidates were battling for 45 delegates to the GOP national convention. The Democrats were fighting over 45 also.
In the closing days of the Super Tuesday campaign, all of the major candidates made stops in Alabama except Romney and Clinton, who sent her husband.
In the three months leading up to Tuesday's primary, 58,341 people signed up to vote. In comparison, 43,702 registered in 2004 and 36,898 in 2000.
The state has about 2.56 million registered voters. The percent turning out for the last four presidential primaries, all held in June, was in the low 20s. In 1988, when the primary was earlier in the campaign, 26 percent voted.