The Bellwethers

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


[Map of county results, exit polls]

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


[Map of county results, exit polls]

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.

Floridians who ranked terrorism as their top policy concern voted overwhelmingly for McCain. But it was the economy that seemed to dominate voters' minds. More than 90 percent of residents assessed the state of the economy as "not so good/poor" -- a group Obama won handily, according to the exit polls.

-- Ceci Connolly


[Map of county results, exit polls]

Ohio presented enormous challenges for Sen. Barack Obama. Not only did George W. Bush win the bellwether state in 2000 and 2004, but Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) won this year's Democratic primary there.

But those primary voters seem to have helped put the Illinois Democrat over the top last night. Just 17 percent of Ohio voters who described themselves as Clinton supporters cast ballots for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), according to network exit polls.

Large defections from traditional Republican constituencies -- self-identified conservatives, rural voters, non-union members and upper-middle-income families -- helped cost McCain the state's 20 electoral votes.

As expected, Obama won by wide margins with young voters, minorities and households containing at least one union member, according to the exit polls. But his victory went beyond that.

In Ohio's large cities, where Bush remained competitive four years ago, Obama racked up large margins. He fared better among non-union households than Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) did in 2004. And Obama was able to reclaim the small but significant number of black women -- about 12 percent -- who supported Bush in 2004.

But despite Obama's efforts to portray a potential McCain presidency as little more than a third term for Bush, Ohioans were evenly divided about whether the Republican nominee would continue administration policies or chart a new course, according to exit polls.

Many residents disliked the tone of this year's race. Nearly half of Ohio voters complained that both candidates had attacked the other unfairly, according to the exit polls. Even so, statewide turnout was up this year from 2004.

-- Ceci Connolly


[Map of county results, exit polls]

Barack Obama tested Missouri's long-standing reputation as a bellwether state yesterday as a wave of economic uncertainty drove women, younger people, and black and Hispanic voters to the polls for him.

The Show-Me State has voted for the presidential loser only once in about the past 100 years, choosing Sen. Adlai Stevenson (D) of Illinois in 1956. President Bush carried Missouri in 2004, winning 54 percent of the women's vote. But his plummeting popularity and the faltering economy weighed down Sen. John McCain this year. Obama led among female voters with about 53 percent support, according to exit polls. McCain (R-Ariz.) also struggled far more than Bush among voters younger than 30. McCain led among older white voters and late-deciders while battling the U.S. senator from Illinois's for voters who made more than $50,000.

Reflecting the growing diversity of the U.S. heartland and Obama's ability to expand the electorate, whites made up about 82 percent of Missouri voters on Election Day, down from 89 percent four years ago, according to exit polls. Minority voters made up about 18 percent, up from 11 percent, as blacks' share grew from 8 percent to about 14 percent. Obama ran better among whites and blacks than Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), his party's 2004 nominee, claiming about 43 percent and 93 percent of their support, respectively, according to exit polling.

Democrats also made inroads in a belt of rural counties between the urban strongholds of St. Louis and Kansas City, as Obama held McCain's margin among small-town and rural voters far below the 2 to 1 trouncing that Bush delivered. Statewide, Democrats outnumbered Republicans at the polls, 42 to 32 percent.

Even more than in the rest of the country, the economy was on the minds of Missourians. Nearly 60 percent said they were very worried about the direction of the economy. Those voters favored Obama by nearly 3 to 2.

-- Spencer S. Hsu

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