John McCain won moderates and improved his showing among conservatives to win South Carolina's Republican primary yesterday, an exit poll showed. Many deeply religious voters flocked to Mike Huckabee, while nonevangelical conservatives splintered among McCain, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, and Huckabee.
In voting earlier in the day, whites, Hispanics, and women helped Hillary Clinton to a popular-vote victory while blacks overwhelmingly backed Barack Obama in Nevada's Democratic presidential caucuses. In that state's Republican caucuses, 1 in 4 participants were Mormons and nearly all of them supported Mitt Romney as he romped in a barely contested race.
The voter surveys for the Associated Press and television networks found:
S.C. Republican primary
McCain lost all conservatives 35 percent to 26 percent, but only because Huckabee had a 22-point advantage among the very conservative; McCain got 32 percent to Huckabee's 30 percent among the somewhat conservative.
Helping Huckabee stay close was that the proportion of very conservative voters increased from 24 percent eight years ago to 34 percent now, and many of them were religious conservatives. At least half the GOP primary voters were white evangelicals or born-again, while 6 in 10 said they attended religious services at least weekly.
Conservatives who were white evangelical or born-again Christians went 2-to-1 for Huckabee over McCain, 46 percent to 23 percent. But among conservatives who were not evangelicals, McCain had 32 percent and Romney 23 percent, with Thompson at 21 percent and Huckabee at 18 percent.
McCain racked up his best numbers yet in 2008 among moderates, winning 51 percent of them, compared to 44 percent in his New Hampshire primary victory. And his 26 percent showing among the very conservative was up a bit from 18 percent in New Hampshire.
McCain also improved his showing among mainline Republicans compared to eight years ago. McCain got 31 percent of them to 32 percent for Huckabee, while most of the rest split between Romney and Thompson.
Nev. Democratic caucuses
Two-thirds of caucus-goers were white, and Clinton won them by 52 percent to 34 percent for Obama. Fifteen percent were black, and Obama won 83 percent of them. A similar proportion were Hispanic and they went more than 2-to-1 for Clinton, although the survey could not cover nine at-large voting precincts at casinos on the Las Vegas strip - sites expected to include many Hispanics among culinary union workers.
Women made up 59 percent of caucus-goers and they went 51-38 for Clinton, while men split pretty evenly between her and Obama. That was more like the results in the New Hampshire primary than the Iowa caucuses, which Obama won by narrowly defeating Clinton among women.
As he did in Iowa, Obama won nearly six 6 in 10 caucus-goers under age 30 - but they made up only 13 percent of caucus-goers. Nev. Republican caucuses
Mormons made up 26 percent of those at Nevada's GOP caucuses, and 95 percent voted for Romney, who is a Mormon. Against little competition - only Romney and Ron Paul campaigned much in Nevada - he also won among Protestants and Catholics.