Tuesday's primary voting laid bare a racial and ethnic divide among Democratic voters, with African-Americans overwhelmingly preferring Sen. Barack Obama, while Hispanics largely favored Sen. Hillary Clinton.
The results of preliminary exit polls in nine key states indicate that Obama attracted the support of three-fourths to four-fifths of black voters, except in Clinton's home state of New York. That pattern suggests that the first-term Illinois senator's strong appeal among African-Africans - first on display in the South Carolina primary last month - is more widespread. It also indicates that Clinton is not the automatic heir to the wide popularity her husband enjoyed among black voters while he was president.
On the other hand, Tuesday's contests were the first to feature states, such as California, with large Hispanic populations, and they selected Sen. Clinton by smaller but consistent margins.
The divergent choices by minority voters reflect broad issues of loyalty and identity, observers said, rather than specific differences in the candidates' stances on issues. "There is so little distance between the policies, it comes down to personality, style and name recognition," said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the Los Angeles-based National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
"No one has said, 'This is the black Democratic agenda, the Latino Democratic agenda,'" Vargas said. "This is just, who do people know, who do they identify with, who are they comfortable with?"
Obama's strong appeal among black voters surfaced less than two weeks ago in South Carolina, where exit polls indicated that he defeated Clinton by a ration of 4-1 among that segment of the electorate. "The South Carolina primary was decisive," said David A. Bositis, senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. "It sealed the deal for African-Americans on Obama."
Analysts attributed Obama's wide margins among black voters to his candidacy. "There is a sense of pride in who he is," said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League.