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McCain Weathers Tsunami Tuesday, Democrats Split

WASHINGTON (AP) - Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton was strongly supported by Hispanics and people seeking an experienced candidate, but Barack Obama was eating into her usual dominance of women and whites, in early national exit polls Tuesday. A coalition of black, young, white and higher-income voters were flocking to Obama.

On the Republican side, preliminary data from exit polls of voters in 16 states showed Sen. John McCain getting broad support, including strong backing from moderates and people valuing experience and leadership. He and Mitt Romney were battling for an edge among party regulars, while Romney had an advantage with the GOP's most conservative voters and people wanting a strong stance against illegal immigrants.

Obama, an Illinois senator, was getting support from more than four in 10 women and about the same number of whites, leaving him just a few percentage points behind Clinton. That was a narrower deficit than he has faced in most states that have held nominating contests so far, with part of his strength coming from people under age 44, whom he was dominating.

"I think Obama can bring a more radical change," said Linda Ster, 44, a social worker in Nashville, Tenn. "I have voted for a Clinton already. I want something different - way different - this time."

In Oklahoma, a state Clinton won overall, there was no gender gap for her; she won among men and women. McCain won in Illinois, a state dominated by conservative GOP voters, in part because Huckabee and Romney split most of the conservative vote, while the three rivals shared support from evangelicals.

Nationally, Obama was getting the backing of eight in 10 blacks, his usual margin. But Clinton, a New York senator, was countering with strong support from Hispanics, about six in 10 of whom were supporting her. Much of that strength came from Hispanic women and from the oldest Latino voters.

Obama was leading with liberals and had a modest advantage among white men, a group from which he has seldom received strong backing. Former Sen. John Edwards' decision to leave the race last week may have helped Obama with those voters. Obama and Clinton were about even with moderate and conservative Democrats.

About half of Democrats across the country said they want a candidate who will change things. As usual Obama was that group's overwhelming favorite, getting about seven in 10 of their votes. About one-fourth preferred experience, and Clinton was garnering virtually all of their votes.

Clinton had a clear lead with white women, with older white and Hispanic voters, and with lower educated and low-income people.

Half of Democrats named the economy as the country's top issue. Of that group, Clinton was favored slightly. She also led with those citing health care, while Obama had an advantage with people most concerned about the war in Iraq.

Clinton led among the one-fifth who said gender was an important factor in deciding which candidate to support. Obama led among the vast majority who said it was not, by about a 10 percentage point margin.

While an overwhelming majority of Democrats said they did not consider race in choosing a candidate, about one in five said they considered it. Among that small group who said race influenced their votes, most whites and Hispanics favored Clinton while virtually all the blacks supported Obama.

In a sign of McCain's broad support, he had an edge over his GOP rivals among men, older voters, veterans and Hispanics, according to preliminary national figures from exit polls. He also led among people saying they are somewhat conservative, Republicans who disapprove of the way the war in Iraq is going, and those who were not white evangelical or born-again Christians.

"I think he's the guy that can see the big picture," Heather Holliday, 28, a sales executive in Chicago, said of McCain.

Almost half of GOP voters said the Arizona senator was the candidate best qualified to be commander in chief, nearly double the number who named Romney.

The top issue for Republicans also was the economy, with four in 10 naming it. Those voters favored McCain, as did those citing Iraq and terrorism. Romney's advantage came with the one quarter who said illegal immigration was their No. 1 concern.

But on the economy, the message from GOP voters was mixed. On a separate question, Romney was cited as the candidate most trusted to manage the economy.

McCain and Romney each had the support of nearly four in 10 people calling themselves Republicans. McCain has yet to win that group of voters in any GOP contest this year, though he has tied for the lead among them before. He led among independents - a consistent McCain strength - though Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, was not far behind.

McCain had more than a 2-to-1 edge over Romney among GOP moderates. Romney was compensating by getting about half the votes of people calling themselves very conservative, well ahead of Huckabee and McCain.

Those preferring a candidate with strong leadership over agreement on the issues, and looking for experience, were tilting strongly toward McCain. But nearly half of Republicans were looking for a candidate who shares their values. Romney led with that group.

Romney also had four in 10 votes from Republicans who want to deport illegal aliens, for a clear lead over McCain.

Huckabee, who has trailed McCain and Romney overall in recent national polls, had one-third of the votes of white, born-again and evangelical Christians, giving him a slight lead in that category over his rivals.

The preliminary results came from exit polling by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International conducted for The Associated Press and television networks. The partial samples came from more than 400 precincts across 16 states with primaries on Tuesday.

Included were interviews with 14,143 Democratic primary voters and 8,983 GOP voters. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 1 percentage point for Democrats and 2 points for Republicans. Also included was a poll conducted by telephone in Arizona, California and Tennessee to determine the views of early and absentee voters.

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AP Director of Surveys Trevor Tompson contributed to this report.


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