WASHINGTON – Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee took Alabama's Republican primary Tuesday by crushing his opponents in the competition for conservative and evangelical Christian voters.
In a pattern being replicated across the South, meanwhile, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois held a lead in the Democratic primary thanks to strong support among black voters and young people, according to exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks.
Nearly eight in 10 Republican voters in Alabama described themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians, and nearly half of them sided with Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist preacher.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has sought to cast himself as the true conservative in the race, won only about 15 percent of those voters. Romney also won just 20 percent of self-described conservatives, placing third among them to Huckabee and Arizona Sen. John McCain.
McCain fared well among those describing themselves as moderates, but it wasn't enough to offset Huckabee's advantages elsewhere in the Bible Belt state. Unlike in other parts of the country, in fact, Huckabee held his own or had a slight edge over McCain among voters expressing dissatisfaction with President Bush, the economy and the war in Iraq.
In the Democratic race, about half of the Democratic voters were black, and Obama won 80 percent of their votes. The Illinois senator also took 60 percent of the votes from people under 30, who made up more than one in 10 voters.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York won more than 70 percent of the white vote, versus about 20 percent for Obama — continuing a racial divide that appeared recently in South Carolina and Florida. She fared particularly well among people 60 and older.
About three-fourths of Democratic voters expressed a favorable opinion of Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton. But they split roughly evenly between Obama and Clinton.
Seven in 10 Democratic voters said they would be satisfied with Hillary Clinton or Obama as president.
Voters in both parties cited the economy as the most pressing issue facing the nation. About nine out of 10 Democratic voters described the economy as "not good" or "poor," compared with about half of Republicans.
Immigration placed second among Republicans as the most important issue, and more than half of GOP voters said most illegal immigrants working in the United States should be deported.
Some 80 percent of Republicans said they strongly approved or somewhat approved of the war in Iraq.