updated 5/7/2008 1:26:48 AM ET 2008-05-07T05:26:48

Indiana’s sometimes-stepchild county gave Hillary Rodham Clinton a razor-thin victory early Wednesday.

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Lake County, the state’s second-most populous with nearly 500,000 people, many of them minorities, reported its results several hours after the polls closed as a large number of absentee ballots and a record turnout delayed the tallies. Although Barack Obama prevailed countywide by more than 10 percentage points, Clinton held onto a statewide win.

Gary Mayor Rudy Clay, a Barack Obama supporter who is the Lake County Democratic chairman, told The Associated Press that voters in his city were giving huge margins for Obama.

“Barack is winning precincts 297 to eight and 153 to two and all that,” Clay said. “Gary is going to be a big plurality for Barack Obama, a big plurality.”

But state Democratic Chairman Dan Parker, a superdelegate who is backing Clinton, said preliminary figures from Hammond and the county’s suburban communities gave Clinton enough support to help her win the state.

“The numbers from Gary will not be able to make up the number statewide,” Parker said.

Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott told CNN that Clinton had won his city by 600 votes.

Lake County, which runs along the southern shore of Lake Michigan, is an amalgamation of steel mills and chemical plants in cities with large minority populations such as Gary and Hammond, along with numerous mostly white suburbs to the south. It always has had more in common with neighboring Chicago than the rest of Indiana. As such, it favored Obama in the Democratic presidential race.

The county is in the Chicago television market, where the Illinois senator has received plenty of coverage since being elected in 2004.

Lake County is the state’s most diverse, with 26 percent of its population black and 14 percent Hispanic.

The county has long been a Democratic stronghold and a key to the party’s hopes in statewide races. In 2004, it provided nearly 12 percent of all the votes John Kerry received in Indiana.

Clinton and her husband made numerous campaign trips to Lake County, hoping to gain advantage among its Hispanic and blue-collar white voters.

Parker said the release of county voting totals was further delayed because votes are tallied in each of the county’s more than a dozen cities and towns before being sent to county offices.

Parker said he was confident that the vote count was being handled appropriately. He said the Lake County sheriff and prosecutor were both at the county government center monitoring the process.

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

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