The Bellwethers

Wednesday, November 5, 2008; 1:56 AM

Washington Post reporters break down Tuesday's vote in four key states.


John McCain lavished attention on Pennsylvania in the closing days of Campaign 2008. It paid off, but not enough. Voters who said they made up their minds in recent days went for the Republican nominee, according to network exit polls. But McCain's failure to rack up enormous margins in the state's rural center -- the only real recipe for GOP success here, and for a come-from-behind McCain win in the electoral college -- ultimately cost him Pennsylvania's 21 electoral votes.

The U.S. senator from Arizona was damaged by large defections in the 50-to-64 age group, a constituency that was evenly split four years ago but gave Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) a 15-point margin this year, according to exit polls.

The racial makeup of this year's electorate in Pennsylvania was nearly identical to that of 2004. But Obama polled better than Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) did with whites (by 3 percentage points) and blacks (by 11 percentage points), according to exit polls.

McCain eked out a win among the state's large Catholic population, but he lost among other Christian voters. He also drew support from 20 percent of the voters who said they had supported Clinton.

Obama's message of change seems to have resonated in Pennsylvania, where 18 percent of voters told exit pollsters that experience was the top quality they were looking for in a candidate.

One more factor: A narrow group of Pennsylvanians said they were first-time voters this year. They went overwhelmingly for Obama.

-- Ceci Connolly


Sen. Barack Obama built his victory in Florida, a state that has been synonymous with heartbreak for many Democrats since 2000, by following the blueprint of Democrats before him -- and then systematically improving upon their numbers.

Most dramatic was his win among Hispanics, whom former White House political guru Karl Rove had avidly wooed. Four years ago, President Bush won 56 percent of the Latino vote in the state, thanks primarily to the influence of conservative Cuban-Americans. But this year, Hispanics swung to the Democratic column, giving the candidate from Illinois 57 percent of their votes, according to network exit polls. Another boost to Obama: Turnout among Latinos was up from 2004.

Although the majority of Floridians said race was not a factor in their decision, the black-white divide this year closely resembled the state's racial split in 2004. The difference was the margins. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) drew about the same level of support from white voters as Bush did four years ago, but Obama's margin among black residents -- who also turned out in larger numbers to back the first black major-party presidential nominee -- was nearly 10 percentage points higher than the one in 2004 for Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).

Florida's vote clearly split along economic lines, too, according to the exit polls. Voters making more than $50,000 chose McCain over Obama. The Republican nominee also won among evangelicals, Catholics and voters older than 64. But McCain's margins there were generally slimmer than Bush's.

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