Fueled by black voters and a message of change, Barack Obama swept to a commanding victory in Georgia's Democratic presidential primary while Republican Mike Huckabee edged out his GOP rivals with the help of a folksy style and a campaign that weighed heavily on conservative values in a successful bid to attract Christian evangelicals. Huckabee turned out evangelical voters and 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.
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"The candidate is a direct reflection of Republicanism in Alabama," Reynolds said.
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 80 percent of precincts reporting, more than 1.5 million votes had been tallied.
Obama, an Illinois senator, 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 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 performed surprisingly well with white male voters.
"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."
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."
Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister, edged out Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for the victory.
Georgia, with its stalwart base of religious voters, had been critical for Huckabee. He also 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.
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.