WASHINGTON — Barack Obama won overwhelming support from black voters Tuesday to crush Hillary Clinton in Mississippi's Democratic presidential primary, the last time the two rivals will compete for six weeks.
Mississippi's vote proved predictable. At least half of the Democratic electorate is African-American, and Obama led Clinton 90-10 percent among them, according to exit polls.
White voters tilted to Clinton over Obama, 73-26 percent, according to exit polls. That could bolster the New York senator's claim that Obama has limited appeal, an ability to win only in states with large black populations or those that hold caucuses, where organization is crucial.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, won Mississippi's Republican primary easily, as expected, but exit polls found only 42 percent of Mississippi voters were "very satisfied" with him. McCain continues to draw skepticism from conservatives. About 41 percent of Mississippi's GOP voters were "somewhat satisfied" with him, while 15 percent were somewhat or very dissatisfied.
Next on the Democratic primary calendar is Pennsylvania's April 22 contest, where 158 convention delegates are at stake.
Mississippi offered only 33 delegates, and its result didn't change the shape of the race. The primary and caucus season is now scheduled to end on June 7, and it's unlikely that either senator will clinch the 2,025 delegates needed for nomination. That would toss the nomination decision to the 795 party officials who, as superdelegates, control about 20 percent of the Democratic National Convention's vote.
As Obama and Clinton head into spring break for the nominating season, both can claim some bragging rights.
Clinton won three state primaries last Tuesday, including Texas and Ohio, and can point to a string of strong showings this year in big states crucial to winning the November election.
But Obama can cite the beginning of a new winning streak — he took Wyoming's Saturday caucus with 61 percent of the vote — and he leads Clinton in convention delegates. Before Tuesday's primary, he had 1,579 delegates to Clinton's 1,473, according to the Associated Press.
Obama tried hard to broaden his appeal in Mississippi, campaigning with former Gov. Ray Mabus on Monday and Tuesday and stumping for votes as Democrats went to the polls.
Obama's win gives him a near-sweep of the Deep South — he won Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, while Clinton took Arkansas, where she was the first lady for 11 years.
To prove himself a viable November candidate, though, Obama needed to dispel the notion that he cannot draw sizable chunks of white votes in primaries, particularly in the South.
In Georgia, for instance, Obama won 67 percent of the overall vote on Feb. 5, but only 38 percent of white Democrats. He beat Clinton by 21 percent in Louisiana four days later, but won only one-fourth of white Democrats.
The results from Mississippi are likely to be fleeting, said John Geer, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University.
"Mississippi doesn't mean much," he said. "Everybody's going to wait for Pennsylvania."
McClatchy Newspapers 2008