Robust support from working-class whites and controversies over Barack Obama's former pastor and suspending the federal gas tax fed a strong performance by Hillary Rodham Clinton in West Virginia's presidential primary.
The New York senator capitalized on two factors that consistently have helped in her struggle to win the Democratic nomination — a nearly all-white population and the low number of highly educated residents. Whites without college degrees were nearly two-thirds of voters, according to early results from exit polls Tuesday. Of that group, about three-fourths were supporting her, one of her best performances of the year with them.
Though Obama has denounced the Rev. Jeremiah Wright for saying the U.S. invited the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and other statements, half said they believed the Illinois senator shares Wright's views a lot or somewhat. Eight in 10 in that group backed Clinton.
Even among those who said Obama did not agree with his former pastor, more than four in 10 still voted for Clinton. That included four in 10 of those saying flatly that Obama does not believe Wright's opinions.
Gas tax holiday
The former first lady also has supported suspending the federal gasoline tax this summer to help motorists cope with rising gas prices, a proposal Obama has called an ineffective ploy aimed at winning votes. Six in 10 West Virginia voters liked the idea, and three-fourths backed Clinton. Even those saying it was a bad proposal were evenly split between the two rivals.
Racial attitudes also came into play, and favorably for Clinton. About one in five whites said race influenced their choice of a candidate, one of the highest proportions who have said so in states that have voted thus far.
Of them, about eight in 10 were backing Clinton, roughly matching the high set by several other Southern states.
About six in 10 whites who said race did not affect them also voted for Clinton.
Six in 10 also said Bill Clinton's campaigning was important in choosing a candidate. Eight in 10 of them voted for his wife. Just over half of those saying the former president's efforts were not important voted for Obama.
Overall, Clinton was running unusually strong across virtually all types of voters. She even led among many groups that Obama typically wins, including men, those under age 30, college graduates, independents and the very liberal.
She was also dominating, as usual, among whites and women. There were not enough blacks in the early exit poll samples for meaningful figures.
Underscoring the divisions the long Democratic campaign has sown, only about a quarter of those surveyed said they would be satisfied if either Clinton or Obama gets the nomination — well below the 46 percent average of all states that have voted so far. More than four in 10 said they only wanted Clinton to win, and about one in five said they'd only be happy with Obama.
In a further indication of sharp feelings, only half of those voting for Obama said they would vote for Clinton should she be the party's candidate in November. Repeating a familiar pattern from previous states, Clinton's supporters were even more negative: Just over a third said they would vote for Obama over Republican John McCain.
The results were from exit polling by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for The Associated Press and television networks conducted in 30 precincts in the state.
The early data was based on 1,016 people voting in West Virginia's Democratic contest, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.