By DAVID ESPO
WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Barack Obama won caucuses in Nebraska and Washington state and moved ahead in the Louisiana primary Saturday night, slicing into Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s slender delegate lead in their historic race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The Illinois senator was winning two-thirds support in both caucus states.
Returns from the first handful of Louisiana precincts showed him leading, a black man hoping to extend a string of Southern primary triumphs that already included South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia.
Blacks helped Barack Obama against Hillary Rodham Clinton in Louisiana’s racially polarized Democratic primary Saturday, while John McCain made little headway among the most conservative, highly religious voters as he battled Mike Huckabee in their first head-to-head Republican matchup, exit polls found.
Blacks were nearly half the Democratic primary electorate and Obama racked up one of his largest margins yet among them. He won nearly nine in 10 blacks, male and female, according to the exit polls for The Associated Press and television networks.
Most other Democratic voters were white and Clinton won them by about 40 points, a margin she has met or exceeded only in Alabama, Tennessee and her former home state of Arkansas among 19 Democratic primaries surveyed this year.
Continuing a pattern seen in other Southern states, Obama won only three in 10 white men and did no better among white women. Outside the South, Obama has tended to win far more votes from white men than white women, who have been one of Clinton’s strongest groups in nearly every primary so far.
Despite the voting patterns, three in four Democratic primary-goers said race wasn’t a factor in their vote and about as many said that about the candidates’ sex.
About one in 10 white Clinton voters and roughly as many black Obama voters did say race was the single most important factor in their vote. And female Clinton voters were a little more likely than others to say gender was one of several important factors.
Claudette Arceneaux, 50, whose family is both black and white, voted for Obama and said she’s been a fan since his “stunning” keynote at the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston.
Neither race nor sex was important to her vote Saturday, she said, but it will be important if Clinton wins the nomination – and not in a positive way. “If she won now, we’ll have another Republican in the White House. I think there are more sexists out there than racists,” Arceneaux said.
But she added: “It’s history-making either way, isn’t it? It’s still something to be incredibly proud of. In our lifetimes. In our lifetimes.”
Gregory Espinal, a 29-year-old Hispanic barber, said he voted for Clinton because of “her influence on politics while her husband was in charge. I knew she was probably a person who thinks far in the future, strategically.”
Clinton’s experience won her many votes. One in five Democratic voters said experience was the most important candidate quality and nine in 10 of them backed Clinton. More than half of voters said it was most important that a candidate can bring about needed change, and while most of them backed Obama, Clinton did win a quarter of their votes.
As in other Democratic primaries, Clinton did better among older voters and those with lower income and less education.
There was little difference in Louisiana in how votes split for Obama and Clinton among moderates and voters farther left.