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Voting blocs that made winners of Clinton, McCain may not be enough to win coming contests

WASHINGTON - The voting blocs that made winners of Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain in weekend presidential contests don't automatically spell victory for them in the contests next up.

Democrats vote in South Carolina on Saturday, followed by the Republican contest in Florida three days later.

Clinton won Nevada Democratic voters by capturing majorities of whites and Hispanics. Barack Obama got eight in 10 blacks in the campaign's first true test of the two rivals' appeal to that constituency.

But a different dynamic may await in South Carolina, where a repeat of that pattern by the state's racial groups might spell victory for Obama, an Illinois senator, because of the sheer number of blacks who make up the electorate. Should Obama get an emphatic majority of blacks there while whites give Clinton just more than half their vote, as they did in Nevada, Obama could have the numbers he needs.

Then there is the gender factor.

Clinton beat Obama in Nevada by 13 percentage points among women while they split the male vote. She also had prevailed among women in winning New Hampshire, though Obama narrowly took Iowa's women voters to win there.

A mid-January poll of South Carolina Democrats by Mason-Dixon Polling Research Inc. showed Clinton and Obama splitting women while Obama led among men. That, too, is a formula for an Obama victory.

As in Nevada, women are expected to comprise nearly six in 10 Democratic voters in South Carolina, which could give Clinton an edge should she retain her recent hold on female voters.

Another South Carolina opportunity for Obama is that state's independents. He has won the independent vote in each state so far, and they are expected to be a fifth to one-fourth of the South Carolina vote — a bit more than the 15 percent share of Nevada's voters Saturday.

The Republican race hopscotches down to Florida following McCain's narrow victory over Mike Huckabee in South Carolina. McCain heads into the Jan. 29 Florida primary heavily reliant on marginal segments of the GOP — like moderates, independents and less religious voters — though exit polls of South Carolina voters showed signs he may be growing on the party's mainstream.

But it also presents the latest installment of a familiar test: Can he win the nomination without capturing its bedrock supporters, religious Christian and conservative voters?

Huckabee's losing coalition in South Carolina read like the GOP's honor roll: the very conservative, frequent church-goers, white born again and evangelical Christians, those who want to deport illegal immigrants and make all abortions illegal, and people seeking a candidate who shares their values.

McCain's supporters were an assortment of Republicans who seldom call the shots in the GOP. It's a ragtag list: moderates, independents, those who are not born again or evangelical, and people who pray only occasionally. Also, those who favor keeping at least some abortions legal and making some accommodations to illegal immigrants, are unhappy with President Bush and worry about the war in Iraq.

Yet McCain was seen as the likeliest Republican to win the White House in November by 43 percent on Saturday — about double those who thought Huckabee or Mitt Romney had the best chance to win.

In Florida's 2000 GOP presidential primary as McCain was losing the party's nomination to George W. Bush, conservatives were six in 10 voters, self-identified Republicans were eight in 10. He lost both groups badly.

In South Carolina, though, McCain showed reasons for hope with mainline GOP voters.

McCain and Huckabee basically split Republicans evenly and trailed Huckabee by 9 percentage points among conservatives. He also won half of the state's moderates, better than he had done in any contest this year, and four in 10 independents.

Even among white, born again and evangelical Christians, McCain lost to Huckabee in South Carolina by a wide but respectable 43 percent to 27 percent margin. And he did well with people seeking experience and leadership.

In South Carolina, though, McCain had no serious competition for moderate votes, while the conservative vote was divided among Huckabee, Romney and Fred Thompson. Florida will be different with Giuliani waiting there.

As for Saturday's other winner, Romney's GOP Nevada win was essentially uncontested and signaled little about his prospects ahead.

The data is from surveys conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International among 1,655 voters leaving 35 precincts in South Carolina's Republican primary and 1,098 voters entering 30 sites in Nevada's Democratic caucuses. The margin of sampling error for both was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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