WASHINGTON -- Robust support from working-class whites and controversies over Barack Obama's former pastor and suspending the federal gas tax fed an unusually strong performance by Hillary Rodham Clinton in West Virginia's presidential primary.
Clinton ran away with the contest partly by capitalizing on the state's nearly all-white population and its low number of highly educated residents -- two segments of voters that have backed her solidly all year.
Whites without college degrees were seven in 10 voters, according to early results from exit polls Tuesday, more than any other state that has voted. Among them, about three-fourths were supporting the New York senator, one of her best performances of the year with that group.
Though Obama has denounced the Rev. Jeremiah Wright for saying the U.S. invited the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and other statements, half said they believed the Illinois senator shares Wright's views a lot or somewhat. Eight in 10 of them backed Clinton.
Even among those who said Obama did not agree with his former pastor, nearly half still voted for Clinton. That included four in 10 of those who said flatly that Obama does not believe Wright's opinions.
The former first lady also has supported suspending the federal gasoline tax this summer to help motorists cope with rising gas prices, a proposal Obama has called an ineffective ploy aimed at winning votes. Six in 10 West Virginia voters liked the idea. Of those favoring the plan, three-fourths backed Clinton. Even those saying it was a bad proposal were about evenly split between the two rivals.
Yet at the same time, three-quarters said they made up their minds on a candidate a month or more ago. Two-thirds of them backed Clinton -- a proportion of early deciders topped only by those who backed her in her former home state of Arkansas, and by Obama's Illinois supporters.
Racial attitudes also came into play, and favorably for Clinton. About one in five whites said race influenced their choice of a candidate, one of the highest proportions who have said so in states that have voted thus far.
Of them, about eight in 10 were backing Clinton, roughly matching the high set by several other Southern states.
About six in 10 whites who said race did not affect them also voted for Clinton.
Six in 10 also said Bill Clinton's campaigning was important in choosing a candidate. Eight in 10 of them voted for his wife.
Overall, Clinton was running unusually strong across virtually all types of voters. She even led among many groups that Obama typically wins, including men, whites under age 30, college graduates, independents and the very liberal.
She was also dominating, as usual, among whites and women. There were not enough blacks in the early exit poll samples for meaningful figures.
Underscoring the divisions the long Democratic campaign has sown, only three in 10 of those surveyed said they would be satisfied if either Clinton or Obama gets the nomination -- well below the 46 percent average of all states that have voted so far. More than four in 10 said they only wanted Clinton to win, and nearly one in five said they'd only be happy with Obama.
In a further indication of sharp feelings, only half of those voting for Obama said they would vote for Clinton should she be the party's candidate in November. Repeating a familiar pattern from previous states, Clinton's supporters were even more negative: Just over a third said they would vote for Obama over Republican John McCain.
The results were from exit polling by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for The Associated Press and television networks conducted in 30 precincts in the state.
The early data was based on 1,444 people voting in West Virginia's Democratic contest, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.