Illinois Sen. Barack Obama turned a corner Tuesday, winning the rural and exurban vote in both Maryland and Virginia over Sen. Hillary Clinton. Obama won more than fifty percent of the rural vote in Virginia and nearly 60 percent of the exurban vote.

Republican Mike Huckabee beat the party’s presumptive nominee, Sen. John McCain, in rural and exurban Virginia, though McCain won Virginia overall. The former Arkansas governor lost to McCain in all regions of Maryland by substantial margins.

In previous primaries, Obama has had a tough time cracking rural regions. In last week’s Super Tuesday contests, Clinton won the rural vote in 11 states with full primaries (not caucuses); Obama won the rural counties in four states.

Overall on Super Tuesday, Obama won 38 percent of the rural vote and Clinton took 55 percent. This Tuesday, those figures were reversed.

Obama took more than fifty percent of the vote in every geographic category in the two states, except rural Maryland where, with John Edwards and others who have withdrawn from the race still on the ballot, the Illinois senator won with 47 percent of the rural vote.

The lesson from Tuesday’s election is that Obama has continued to push his campaign into new demographic and geographic areas. In the primaries Feb. 12, he drew support from rural and exurban voters in numbers he had previously failed to reach.

Obama still did better in the cities than in the countryside. This was true both in Maryland and Virginia. Obama’s earned 66 percent of the vote in Virginia’s cities, but dropped to 51.6 percent in rural counties. He scored 60 percent in Baltimore and Maryland’s urban counties, but dropped to 47 percent in the state’s rural communities.

Elva Tasker of Garrett County, Maryland, cast her first ballot for president in the fall of 1920; women had just won the right to vote. At age 107, she also participated in Maryland’s recent presidential primary election, voting absentee last Wednesday. Pictured with her, at the Oakland Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, are Garrett Co. elections clerk Bob Boal and Mary Martin of the Oakland Rehab staff. Ms. Tasker “had no comment about whom she preferred in this year’s race.”
Photo: John McEwen for The Republican News

In more rural counties, Clinton’s percentages increased. Though Obama won in rural counties, he continues to poll 10 to 15 percentage points lower in these areas than he does in the cities.

Clinton did particularly well in Virginia’s mountain counties. In the coal mining communities along the Kentucky and West Virginia borders, Clinton won overwhelming victories. She won Buchanan County 9-1, Lee County 6 to 1, Wise County 5 to 1, Scott and Tazewell counties 4 to 1. These are counties with few African-American residents.

This is also an area where the Clinton campaign concentrated its efforts in the last days of the Virginia campaign. Former president Bill Clinton visited Abington in Washington County on Saturday. Sen. Clinton won 70 percent of the vote there yesterday.

In Abington, according to Southwest Virginia Today, Clinton spoke to a “beyond-capacity crowd.” Mark Sage wrote that the former president told the gathering that Hillary “would push for clean, independent energy ““ including solar, wind, biomass and, to a round of thundering applause from the largely Southwest Virginia crowd, clean coal technology ““ creating jobs along the way.”

Obama, meanwhile, ran especially strong in the exurban region between Richmond and Norfolk. He won Surry and Charles City counties more than 4 to 1 over Clinton, and the independent city of Petersburg, south of Richmond, by 6-1.

Huckabee’s stronghold in Virginia was in the counties surrounding Roanoke. In Bedford, Bland, Botentot, Campbell, and Craig counties, he won 2-1 over McCain. Huckabee also did well in central Virginia in what was, for a time, a close contest. Huckabee won almost half the vote in rural and exurban Virginia, but took only 36 percent of the city vote.

In Maryland, Huckabee’s vote was steady — and low — across all regions.

Where Obama appears to be expanding his base, Huckabee’s insurgent campaign may have peaked.

The strength of Obama’s performance in rural Virginia was not based on large numbers of African-American voters — a contrast to his victories in states like South Carolina. In South Carolina, Obama won 59 percent of the rural vote, where 39 percent of the rural population is African-American.

In Virginia, Obama won 52 percent of the rural vote — but only 16 percent of the state’s rural population is African-American.

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