Sen. Barack Obama continued to pluck more votes out of rural communities in his battle with Sen. Hillary Clinton and, as a result, won the Wisconsin primary Tuesday in a rout.
Obama won nearly 59 percent of the vote across the state against Sen. Hillary Clinton’s 39 percent. But Obama won nearly as handily in rural areas of Wisconsin, where he took 55 percent of the vote. Rural communities once were a Clinton stronghold, but no longer. Since Super Tuesday, the New York senator has been taking a dwindling share of the rural vote. (See chart below.)
In Wisconsin’s Republican primary, Sen. John McCain won 57 percent of the state total against former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s 38 percent. McCain, however, won 51.4 percent of Wisconsin’s rural vote, compared to Huckabee’s 43 percent.
The Wisconsin Republican primary was little contested. McCain has nearly enough delegates to wrap up the nomination. Democratic voters, however, came out in droves — and in nearly every category, Obama picked up larger percentages than in previous primaries. Obama won more than half of the voters without a college degree (60 percent of the Democratic voters), a group that once voted with Clinton.
Obama also did well among white voters — particularly white rural voters. Obama has counted on large votes among African-Americans to win rural counties in previous primaries, such as Georgia and South Carolina. In Wisconsin, however, 95 percent of those living in the state’s rural communities are white. Rural Wisconsinites are also older than the state average — another group Obama had lost in previous primaries.
Yet Obama won these communities easily, showing that he has been able to take the excitement of his urban campaign to more far-flung areas.
Barbara Lyon, editor of the Dunn County News, described an Obama rally last Saturday morning at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s Zorn Arena. The arena was filled, Lyon wrote, leaving about 300 people out in the bitter Wisconsin cold. Obama came out and gave a shortened version of his stump speech to what one member called the “rump group” at the rally.
Bob Salt of Menomonie told Lyon: “It was electrifying to have that many people come together to be a part of it, to know that here in western Wisconsin there are so many people who are on board with this thing that it helps you to move outside of your own sense of individuality — and to feel like you’re part of something that’s absolutely amazing.”
Lynne Hausman of Menomonie described the event as “half rock concert, half Packer game.” In Wisconsin, there is no higher praise.
Obama still took a higher percentage of votes in urban Wisconsin than in rural portions of the state. But the difference is shrinking. Just last week in the Potomac primary (Maryland and Virginia), Obama’s urban vote was 13 percentage points higher than his rural vote.
This week, in Wisconsin, the difference was only six percentage