Tuesday’s Results Don’t Change the Political Trajectories

by Stuart Rothenberg February 10, 2008 · 11:05 PM EST

If Tuesday’s results demonstrate anything, it is that both parties remain deeply divided in their races for president.

The only difference is that the GOP’s winner-take-all system and three-way race is allowing Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) to open up a clear, and probably decisive, lead over his opponents, while Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) are locked in the tightest race in recent history.

If you are looking for one state that epitomizes the competitiveness and direction of the two contests, you need look no further than the exit polls from Missouri’s open primary (which allowed registered voters to participate in the primary of their choice), the bellwether state that was tighter than a drum on Tuesday.

In the GOP contest, McCain won all 58 of the delegates at stake by finishing third among self-identified Republican voters but winning a clear plurality of self-identified independents.

McCain once again easily won self- described moderate Republicans, who constituted just a quarter of primary voters, while drawing just under one-quarter of conservatives. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (38 percent) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (33 percent) divided conservatives.

As he has elsewhere, McCain did particularly well among critics of the Bush administration, those who disapprove of the war in Iraq and GOP primary voters who said that abortion should remain legal.

Geography also tells a story.

While Huckabee ran very credibly statewide in Missouri and throughout the South, his showing in and around the Show Me State’s metropolitan areas was unimpressive at best.

He ran a weak third in two important St. Louis suburban areas, St. Charles County and St. Louis County (by far the most populous county in the state). He also fared poorly in the two big Kansas City-area counties, Jackson and Clay, once again running a distant third.

Romney nosed out McCain in the two Kansas City-area counties and beat the Arizonan by 3 points in St. Charles, while McCain beat Romney in St. Louis County by 4 points.

Those county results confirm what exit polls through the country showed: Huckabee is a Southern candidate with considerable appeal to evangelical Christians, but relatively little strength beyond that group. It is, of course, a group of considerable importance to Republicans in some parts of the country, but it doesn’t establish the former Arkansas governor as a contender for the nomination in a three-way contest that includes Romney.

On the Democratic side, the divisions in the Show Me State reflected similar lines of fracture in the Democratic contest that we have all seen in earlier contests and that we saw throughout Tuesday.

Clinton did well among older voters (winning voters 65 and older by almost 2-1), while Obama had clear and convincing victories among Democratic primary voters age 18-39.

She also won self-identified Democrats (though only by 3 points), while Obama won independents by more than 2-1 and Republicans by more than 3-1. Independents made up 22 percent of Democratic primary voters, while 6 percent of those voters identified themselves as Republicans.

The New York Senator easily won voters from union households, who constituted more than one-quarter of all Democratic primary voters, while Obama won non-union households by 10 points, according to the exit poll.

Looking nationally, Hispanics (the exit poll refers to them as Latinos) are a crucial part of the Democratic coalition, and Obama has a problem with them. They accounted for almost 30 percent of Democratic primary voters in California, and Clinton won them by 40 points according to the exit poll. She also won them overwhelmingly in her home state, New York, and in neighboring New Jersey. She won them more narrowly, but still by a healthy dozen points, in Arizona.

Obama won Hispanics in Connecticut (where he lost white voters by only a single point to Clinton) and very narrowly in Illinois.

However, the Illinois result should be of considerable concern to the Obama campaign, for while he carried 57 percent of white Democratic primary voters in his home state, according to the Illinois exit poll, he barely nosed out Clinton among Illinois Democratic Hispanics by only a single percentage point.

With Texas coming up on March 4, Hispanics could give the former first lady a leg up for that important Democratic contest.

In state after state, Obama now racks up huge majorities among black voters, but he has carried a plurality of white voters in only one primary state, Illinois. (His caucus victories in states such as Alaska, Kansas and Idaho suggest, of course, that he is winning white Democrats in those states as well.)

The contest for the Democratic nomination shows no signs of being resolved anytime in the near future. Wisconsin on Feb. 19 and both Ohio and Texas on March 4 surely will be major skirmishes, with the Clinton and Obama campaigns each hoping to establish itself as the clear favorite for the party’s nomination.