Voting Blocs Shape Obama-Clinton Race

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Even as Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York bring diversity to presidential politics, voters are lining up in well-defined racial and ethnic groups.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Some analysis now from NPR's Juan Williams, who joins us on the line. Good morning, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, we've just heard a range of views among Democratic voters in Maryland. How are these different views playing out among different constituencies? You have some numbers there.

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, it's interesting, because there's a real racial divide becoming apparent that's been apparent for some time now, but becoming sharper. For example, over the weekend in Louisiana, blacks made up half of the electorate in Louisiana, and as you know, Senator Obama won the contest 57 percent to 36 percent for Senator Clinton.

But among the African-Americans who voted in Louisiana - as I said, half of those Democratic votes - Senator Barack Obama got 86 percent of their votes. Among the remaining Louisiana voters, mostly white, Senator Clinton won about 60 percent. And as I say, that fits with what's been happening in recent contests, particularly in the southern states.

If you remember, Renee, in South Carolina, Senator Obama got 80 percent of the black vote. He reached similar highs in Alabama and Georgia. Meanwhile, in several contests Senator Clinton has been winning more than 50 percent of white men. That's been going down a little bit recently. And close to 70 percent of white women.

MONTAGNE: In an NPR interview over the weekend, Senator Obama was asked if he's concerned that voters are split along racial lines, and particularly between black and white. Let's listen to a bit of his response.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, Presidential Candidate): You know, I think that's a very hard argument to make. There are not a lot of African-Americans in Nebraska the last time I checked, or in Utah, or in Idaho, areas where I probably won some of my biggest margins. So you know, I know the press has been obsessed with the racial divide, but you know, that's just not how it's playing out across the country.

MONTAGNE: Well, maybe not across the country, but Juan, has it not played out already that way in some states, as you've just suggested?

WILLIAMS: I think so, and I think, Renee, what you're hearing there is Senator Obama seeking to have it both ways. His campaign, as you know, made a concerted effort to win over black voters, and now he has them as the really - his leverage point in this contest. He can count on them as he can count on no other constituency. But at the same time he doesn't want to be defined as the black candidate in the race, realizing the possibility that white voters would be turned off to that.

He wants to be someone who transcends race. But if you look, for example, at Latinos, if you look at Asians, you see this racial divide. It's not just black and white. For example, in California, Senator Clinton won 66 percent of the Latino vote, doubling Senator Obama's total, Renee. In New York she won Latinos with 74 percent of their vote; in New Mexico 56 percent of the Latino vote. Among Asians in California she won a whopping 73 percent of their vote.

So this is consistent. It's not just black and white. What you have is Senator Obama winning the black vote, that being his base, and Senator Clinton then going towards the white vote, the Latino vote and the Asian vote.

MONTAGNE: Although just briefly, there's studies showing that when Hispanics become familiar with Obama, they do regard him favorably. So this isn't all fixed in stone when you talk about the Latino, the Hispanic vote.

WILLIAMS: No, but it's overwhelming, I think, you know, for Senator Obama to - the contest right from the start, even with black voters, was about him gaining name identification, people becoming familiar, people becoming excited about his candidacy. He had to persuade black voters, for example, that he could win white votes in order for them to take him seriously as a candidate, and that's what he's done.

MONTAGNE: And Juan, what about Wisconsin and Ohio? Those are crucial big states coming up in the next few weeks.

WILLIAMS: Well, what you can see, Renee, is that given the kind of divide that we've seen - and they're pretty much now a clear demarcation between the two, Senator Clinton holding on to white women, older voters, working class voters, as well as poor voters, so long as they're white; and Senator Obama winning black voters, as we've been talking about, upper income voters, highly educated voters, and especially young voters.

So looking forward, going into Wisconsin, Ohio, and even Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland this week, he can count on that constituency as a base, and the question is whether or not he can expand it.

MONTAGNE: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR News analyst Juan Williams. And to learn more about what's at stake in tomorrow's Potomac primaries, go to NPR.org/election.

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