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Clinton's North Carolina Test

By Jennifer Agiesta and Perry Bacon Jr.
While Hillary Clinton aides don't acknowledge it directly, her momentum from a win in Pennsylvania may be blunted on Tuesday by one of the persistent problems of her candidacy: her struggles with black voters.

While polls show her effectively tied with Barack Obama in Indiana, she would gain more among both delegates and in the popular vote if she won the other state voting on May 6, North Carolina. But experts expect that more than a third of the voters in the Tar Heel state will be black, and according to National Election Pool exit polling, Obama has won by double-digits in all of the states where more than 30 percent of Democratic voters were black: South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Maryland and Virginia.

Out of 32 states where exit polls were conducted, nine states had primary electorates where more than a quarter of the electorate was black, and of those, Clinton won only Tennessee, which she carried by 13 points on the strength of her 41-point margin among white voters.

Of course, other demographics suggest Tuesday's outcome is still up for grabs and largely dependent on turnout. In South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana, Obama won overwhelmingly in part because of his fervent support among blacks, who comprised more than 40 percent of the electorate. In Maryland and Virginia, where around a third of the voters were black, and in Georgia, he was helped by high-percentages of college graduates, another Obama strength, and by better-than-average performances among all white voters.

In North Carolina, about four in 10 likely voters have college degrees, according to a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, compared with nearly six in 10 in Maryland and Virginia and more than half in Georgia. In some ways the Tar Heel State is closer to Tennessee, where 35 percent of Democratic primary voters were college graduates.

In short, a very strong finish for Clinton among white voters without college degrees could put her in position to win the state if she can also peel off a small amount of the black vote. Obama could blow her out if black turnout is over 40 percent or he performs as strongly among white working-class voters as he did in a state like North Carolina's neighbor, Virginia.

By Washington Post Editors  |  April 30, 2008; 11:35 AM ET
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