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A Familiar Demographic Story in N.C.

Toney Baker (center), a 21-year-old first-time voter, registers to vote along with other young voters at the Pullen Arts Center, which is adjacent to the N.C. State University in Raleigh. (Jahi Chikwendiu / The Washington Post)

By Krissah Williams
ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. -- Small-town reporter Bob Montgomery spent his day exit polling for the Daily Advance, the local newspaper.

He wouldn't begin to argue that his findings are scientific, but they were an interesting reflection of this town of about 20,000, which is 40 percent white and 56 percent black.

His poll went like this: Watch a voter go into the polling station, and then chase them down as they left.

The first polling place he visited, with The Trail in tow, was the K.E. White Center on the campus of Elizabeth City State University, a predominantly black university. Montgomery's first interview was easy.

Delphine Walton, 65, stood in front of the polling place, sweating under her straw hat in the afternoon sun as she handed out leaflets for Obama. She'd been standing under a tree wearing her Obama button since 7 a.m.

"I'm a supporter of Barack Obama," she told Montgomery. "I want to encourage people that he's the right candidate to vote for. He had some obstacles in his way, but he keeps going, and I believe a change needs to come."

Montgomery filled out one of his exit polling sheets with her name and political preferences.

Next up, Jazmine Jones. The 18-year-old high school senior told Montgomery she voted for Obama because she believes "that he is going to take America to another level."

Montgomery asked her who she picked for lieutenant governor of the state, a post also being subjected to a primary vote.

"I can't even remember," she said. "Is that bad? It's my first time voting. ... I'm so excited."

The polling district is racially diverse, and Montgomery tried his best to vary his small sample.

After interviewing two African American women, one young and one old, he stopped a middle-aged white woman in a peach top.

"I'd rather not say," she told him, looking around at the handful of Obama volunteers milling outside the polling station. She told him her down-ballot picks, and then said, "Okay, I'll tell you. I voted for Hillary Clinton, but I might change my mind in the general election."

Soon after, he spotted an elderly couple, stereotyping them as Clinton supporters, too, and going over to interview them.

"They fit her demographic of older voters," Montgomery said.

They shooed him away, politely and shuffled to their car.

"Okay, I'll leave you alone," he called out.

After a few more interviews Montgomery took off for a more rural polling location and stood in the gravel parking lot in front of Towne South Church of Christ in the tiny township of Nixonton. He talked two to men who voted Republican, adding to John McCain's tally.

Then he stopped a short blonde woman in a black dress who works as a business consultant and voted for Clinton. She wouldn't give Montgomery her name because "the last thing my husband told me before he left for Raleigh this morning was 'You're voting for Obama, right?' He'll never know."

After he left the house, she changed her mind.

"It went down to the wire," she said. "It boiled down to experience. Right now it's just a matter of experience and contacts."

Linda Mercer, 58, who farms with her husband and votes independent, wouldn't say who she voted for, either, but she was right in line with Clinton on the gas tax.

"I don't care if it is $30. Every little bit counts. Some elderly person might benefit from that," Mercer said.

About 4 p.m., rain started pouring and Montgomery had a deadline to meet, so he left the church and headed back to the office at the Daily Advance. There, Montgomery assessed his findings and wrote them up for the next day's paper.

"It seemed that Obama is getting a 7 to 3 margin, and the ones who said they voted for him were ones who said they wanted change, and they feel confident in his ability and experience, and the recent negative attacks did not sway their mind," he said. "Those who voted for Clinton said the reasons were they felt she has more experienced and can more easily deal with the issues immediately because of her experience and Obama doesn't have quite the tested experience. Basically we had younger and black voters for Obama, and older white women for Clinton."

Sounds familiar.

By Web Politics Editor  |  May 6, 2008; 6:50 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama , Hillary Rodham Clinton , Primaries  
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