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updated 2/9/2008 11:18:32 PM ET 2008-02-10T04:18:32

Black votes for Barack Obama outpaced white support for Hillary Rodham Clinton in Louisiana's racially split Democratic primary Saturday, while John McCain made little headway among the most conservative, highly religious voters as he battled Mike Huckabee in their first head-to-head Republican matchup, exit polls found.

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Blacks were nearly half the Democratic primary electorate, and Obama racked up a typically vast margin among them as he beat Clinton in Louisiana. He won more than eight in 10 blacks, male and female, according to the exit polls for NBC News, the other television networks and The Associated Press.

Most other Democratic voters were white and Clinton won them by roughly 70 percent to 25 percent. She has had margins at least that large among whites only in Alabama and her former home state of Arkansas among 19 Democratic primaries surveyed this year.

Continuing a pattern seen in other Southern states, Obama won fewer than three in 10 white men and did no better among white women. Outside the South, Obama has tended to win far more votes from white men than white women, who have been one of Clinton's strongest groups in nearly every primary so far.

Most say race wasn't a factor
Despite the voting patterns, three in four Democratic primary-goers said race wasn't a factor in their vote and about as many said that about the candidates' sex.

About one in 10 white Clinton voters and roughly as many black Obama voters did say race was the single most important factor in their vote. Similar numbers of female Clinton voters and male Obama voters said gender was the most important factor.

Looked at another way, of those whites who said race was an issue in their vote, 8 in 10 voted for Clinton _ more than those who said race wasn't important _ while blacks voted for Obama in equal proportions regardless of whether they said race was important to their vote.

Claudette Arceneaux, 50, whose family is both black and white, voted for Obama and said she's been a fan since his "stunning" keynote at the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston.

Neither race nor sex was important to her vote Saturday, she said, but it will be important if Clinton wins the nomination _ and not in a positive way. "If she won now, we'll have another Republican in the White House. I think there are more sexists out there than racists," Arceneaux said.

But she added: "It's history-making either way, isn't it? It's still something to be incredibly proud of. In our lifetimes. In our lifetimes."

Gregory Espinal, a 29-year-old Hispanic barber, said he voted for Clinton because of "her influence on politics while her husband was in charge. I knew she was probably a person who thinks far in the future, strategically."

Experience a plus for Clinton
Clinton's experience won her many votes. One in five Democratic voters said experience was the most important candidate quality and nine in 10 of them backed Clinton. More than half of voters said it was most important that a candidate can bring about needed change, and while most of them backed Obama, Clinton did win a quarter of their votes.

As in other Democratic primaries, Clinton did better among older voters and those with lower income and less education.

She also won the oldest voters, but Obama had the advantage among not just voters under age 30 — where he usually is strong — but all the way up to age 65. Race may have played a role in this too — it appeared most younger voters were black while seven in 10 older voters were white.

There was little difference in Louisiana in how votes split for Obama and Clinton among moderates and voters farther left.

A huge ideological divide remained in the Republican primary, however. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney dropped out of the race last week after McCain amassed an all but insurmountable lead for Republican convention delegates in Super Tuesday contests.

But questions remain about the Arizona senator's ability to energize the GOP's conservative base, and on Saturday it appeared most of Romney's most conservative support had gravitated to Huckabee.

As usual, close to half of Louisiana GOP voters called themselves very conservative. They favored Huckabee over McCain by 2-to-1. Without competition from Romney, Huckabee had his best showing to date among the very conservative, with the exception of his home state of Arkansas on Super Tuesday.

McCain was backed by at least three in 10 very conservative voters, about 10 points better than he's done on average in primaries to date, but Huckabee doubled his past support among that group.

As in earlier contests, Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, was the strong favorite of white evangelicals _ half the GOP electorate in Louisiana — and the one in three who attend religious services more than once a week.

McCain and Huckabee split those who called themselves somewhat conservative, while McCain, as usual, ran strongly among moderates and the one in 10 GOP voters who called themselves liberal.

Huckabee ate into one typically strong McCain group — those who say the most important candidate quality is that he "says what he believes." One in five voters said that was the top quality and Huckabee won at least as many of their votes as McCain did.

Huckabee was even stronger among the nearly one-half who said it was most important that a candidate shares their values. McCain won at least eight in 10 of the roughly 20 percent whose top quality was the candidate's experience and the 10 percent who cited electability.

The results were from samples of 1,169 Democratic primary voters and 647 Republican primary voters conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International in 30 precincts across Louisiana on Saturday. Results were subject to a sampling error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points for the Democratic primary and 6 points for the Republican.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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