By ALAN FRAM
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - The reaction - or lack of it - by Indiana and North Carolina voters to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's incendiary comments emphasizes how deeply entrenched the racial lines of support are for the two Democratic presidential rivals.
It doesn't seem likely that the renewed focus on Wright has helped Barack Obama, and it is all but certain that he'll hear more about it from Republicans should he win his party's nomination. But for now, there's little evidence it hurt him much in this week's Democratic contests.
After all the attention to Wright and Obama's disavowal of his former pastor, exit polls in the two states found that:
-Six in 10 white voters in both states supported Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is waging an increasingly long-shot struggle to become the party nominee. That's close to the average 57 percent of whites who had backed the New York senator in Democratic primaries since Super Tuesday, which was Feb. 5. It's also slightly below the 63 percent of whites who voted for her in Pennsylvania and 69 percent in Mississippi, the most recent contests before Tuesday's voting.
- Whites lacking college degrees favored Clinton over Obama by 31 percentage points in Indiana and 45 points in North Carolina. Since Super Tuesday, she has triumphed over Obama among this group by an average 30 points, including 41 points in Pennsylvania and 55 points in Mississippi.
-White men leaned toward Clinton on Tuesday, as she got 59 percent in Indiana and 55 percent in North Carolina. Clinton got 57 percent of their votes in Pennsylvania and 67 percent in Mississippi.
-About nine in 10 blacks in Indiana and North Carolina voted for Obama, slightly stronger than his usual showing with them. It mattered little whether they said the Wright situation influenced them or not.
Pollsters said there was not enough data to draw conclusions about whether the attention on Wright drove people away from Obama, the Illinois senator, or drew some toward him because of how he denounced the pastor.
"With the singular exception of Wisconsin, we've seen these two demographic coalitions facing each other and enduring across every contest," said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, referring to the groups of voters who backed each candidate.
Other than liberal Vermont, Wisconsin is the only state where Obama has won more than half of whites who have not graduated college.
It's true that in both Indiana and North Carolina on Tuesday, nearly half of white voters said Wright influenced their pick of a candidate. And of that group in each state, just over eight in 10 voted for Clinton - clearly more than the six in 10 whites who backed her overall.
Even so, those numbers did not seem to change how whites overall voted.
Wright's more incendiary remarks from past sermons became an Internet sensation in March and there was a renewed flurry of attention to Wright late last month. That's when he made a speaking tour and reiterated comments that the federal government may have developed the AIDS virus to infect blacks and that the U.S. invited the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Obama denounced the remarks last week.
Yet exit polls gave little indication that late-deciding white voters moved decisively toward Clinton.
In Indiana, about a quarter of whites who picked their candidate within the past month said Wright was a very important factor. Of that group, 87 percent voted for Clinton.
Yet the same proportion of whites in the state who chose their candidate more than a month ago said Wright was very influential, and 86 percent of them voted for Clinton - essentially no difference.
The same was true in North Carolina, where 25 percent of whites who said Wright was very important in their decision picked their candidate within the past month. Ninety-two percent of them voted for Clinton.
That was little different from the 30 percent of whites there who chose their candidate more than a month ago and also said Wright affected them a great deal. Of that group, 91 percent voted for Clinton.
The figures are from exit polling by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for The Associated Press and television networks conducted in 35 precincts in each state.
The data was based on 1,881 people who voted in Indiana's Democratic contest and 2,316 in North Carolina, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for both states.
AP Director of Surveys Trevor Tompson contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)