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IL: Obama's Home Run

Barack Obama meets with voters at Shoesmith Elementary School in Chicago, where he cast his ballot. (Preston Keres/The Washington Post)

By Elizabeth Williamson
Sen. Barack Obama won his home state in a rout, according to Washington Post projections. Exit polls showed Obama trouncing Sen. Hillary Clinton by more than 30 points -- a margin he maintained among women, who have boosted Clinton's prospects in past contests. On the Republican side, The Washington Post is projecting that Sen. John McCain will win, besting former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney by what some exit polls showed as a hefty margin.

Obama, who hails from the South Side Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park, captured Illinois voters with a message of change and hope, as well as a strong ground operation that capitalized on his organization's knowledge of the farm towns and affluent suburbs, ethnic neighborhoods and college towns of this diverse state. Though Clinton grew up in the northwest Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, exit poll data suggested that voters here no longer see the New York senator as a local favorite.

McCain, endorsed by both Chicago newspapers and several Republican members of Congress, was an early favorite in the race. In a state often suspicious of Eastern establishment types, Illinoisans bought the Arizona senator's "straight talk" message, finding him more solid in his positions than they did Romney, even if they did not agree with his stance on some issues, including the Iraq war.

Early results showed Obama drawing support from some surprising places. In DuPage, a mostly Republican "collar county" suburb, County Executive Robert Saar said early ballots showed an unprecedented number of Democratic voters coming to the polls. "Out of the 15,000 early voters, 8,500 were Democratic and 6,500 were Republican. For a predominantly Republican county, I think you'll see it a lot closer than it's been... people were really motivated," he said. He expected a 35 percent turnout in this county of 540,000 registered voters. With more than 30,000 new voters on the rolls for this election, "it's hard to get a record turnout. But I think we're going to hit it," he said.

Turnouts seemed set to break records in several parts of the state. In Champaign County, home of the University of Illinois and an island of blue amid the conservative farm towns of east-central Illinois, county clerk Mark Shelden predicted a turnout of as much as 33 percent -- an all-time record for the county.

"The highest Democratic turnout ever was in 1992, when we had 17,000 Democratic votes in this county" of 110,000 registered voters, he said. "I ordered 27,000 ballots this time, and in half the precincts, I had to print more."

By Washington Post editors  |  February 5, 2008; 8:40 PM ET
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