MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Mike Huckabee won Alabama's Republican presidential primary, putting another key Southern state in his column Tuesday night, while Barack Obama took an early lead over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary.
Exit polling 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.
On the Democratic side, Obama, an Illinois senator, led Clinton, a New York senator, by a margin of about 14 percentage points in early returns.
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, Obama brought out young voters and energized black voters.
Tobias Wilson, a 20-year-old football player at 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 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.
On the Republican side, many voters who chose with Huckabee said they were influenced by his background as a Baptist minister and because they viewed him as the most conservative candidate.
"My main issue was where they stand on the Lord and conservative versus liberal. I'm conservative," said Jeff McFarland, a 42-year-old Southern Baptist Missionary from Montgomery.
McCain's military background won him some votes.
"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.