Obama's Big Wins a Sign of 'New South'

Sen. Barack Obama shows confirmation that he voted in Chicago during the Illinois primary.

hide captionSen. Barack Obama shows confirmation that he voted in Chicago during the Illinois primary on Super Tuesday.

Gallery: The Campaign Trail

The highest profile black candidate yet to run for president showed substantial power in the Deep South on Tuesday. In Alabama, voters say Sen. Barack Obama's big win offers evidence that the racial divide of the "Old South" has faded.

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Throughout this morning we're checking in with different states that voted on Super Tuesday, and we go next to Alabama, where Mike Huckabee won on the Republican side and Barack Obama was the Democratic winner. He got 56 percent of the vote. Congressman Artur Davis, the chairman of Obama's state campaign, said his victory is a sign of the new South.

Representative ARTUR DAVIS (Democrat, Alabama): I'm thinking it means Alabama has firmly joined the 21st century.

INSKEEP: NPR's Debbie Elliott has been talking with voters in Birmingham.

State Representative MERIKA COLEMAN (Democrat, Alabama): What a great night.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: This embrace between a young African-American lawmaker and a middle-aged white woman was common last night at the Obama campaign watch party in downtown Birmingham. Merika Coleman is the energetic state representative handing out hugs. She beams with pride that her state voted for a black candidate.

State Rep. COLEMAN: We've known that the ways of the old South have been changing for a long time. But I think this vote shows that no longer in the South are people judged based on their race or their religion. But people here in the South are judged on the things that they stand for, and I think that's what this vote in Alabama stands for Barack Obama.

ELLIOTT: Exit polls indicate Obama's strength was among African-American and younger voters in Alabama, particularly in urban areas, but in wealthy suburban Mountain Brook outside Birmingham, 42-year-old white banker Chris Scribner(ph) was also drawn to Obama's message.

Ms. CHRIS SCRIBNER: It's something new, exciting, and I just like the idea of voting for someone close to my age and representing change.

ELLIOTT: In downtrodden West Birmingham, just blocks from boarded up housing projects, older African-American voters filed into an aging football stadium to cast their ballots. For those who endured the city's violent civil rights struggles, there was historical resonance. Eighty-six-year-old Helen George Heath(ph) is a retired schoolteacher.

Ms. HELEN GEORGE HEATH: I had to pay poll tax in order to get the opportunity to vote. So you know, I am just certainly amazed at this day. Amazed to see how far we have come.

ELLIOTT: Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Birmingham.

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