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Obama's Mississippi Win Comes Amid Racial Divide


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Here's the result of the final primary before the Democrats spend six weeks battling over Pennsylvania. Mississippi voted yesterday, and Barack Obama won. That's the good news for the Obama campaign. Any disappointment came in the exit polls, which showed a racial divide among Mississippi voters, as NPR's Audie Cornish reports.

AUDIE CORNISH: Obama won at least 17 pledged delegates in Mississippi, perhaps about half a dozen more than Hillary Clinton - a net gain that means a lot after the setbacks he suffered a week earlier.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Democratic Presidential Candidate): I'm grateful to the people of Mississippi for the wonderful support, and, you know, what we've tried to do is steadily make sure that in each state we are making the case about the need for change in this country.

CORNISH: Obama's victory was bolstered by 90 percent domination among African-American voters such as Leonora Cameron.

Ms. LEONORA CAMERON: First of all, this is a history-making election. And I think he has gotten more young people involved in the voting process, and that's what we need. It gives them a lot of hope, and that's what they need. And that's what we want for them.

CORNISH: Some of Obama's backers, such as Delores Jones, say they were turned off by the Clinton campaign.

Ms. DELORES JONES: I did not like those negative ads. I did not like the 3:00 a.m. piece. I did not like Bill Clinton's fairytale comment, and I did not like her statement saying that maybe you can have the two of us together and inferring that he can be number two on the ticket. I didn't like that at all.

CORNISH: In Mississippi's open primary, black voters made up a little more than half of the vote. Among the other half, exit polls found more than 70 percent of whites supported Hillary Clinton. At a Clinton campaign party, voter Vicki McDonald says she's happy Clinton has been picking up steam lately, but fears seeing the party polarized.

Ms. VICKI MCDONALD: I'm a little concerned about that. I mean, I definitely I want there to be a universal sort of feel in the Democratic Party. I mean, this is our race to win.

CORNISH: But now Clinton supporter and former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro has caused another controversy by saying Obama was only getting attention because of his race. Clinton said she regretted the remarks, but did not denounce Ferraro, who stood by her statement and said her critics were racially motivated.

Obama called the comments patently absurd, and in a CNN interview, called into question the tone of his rival's campaign.

Sen. OBAMA: I've been careful to say that I think Senator Clinton is a capable person and that should she win the nomination, obviously, I would support her. You know, I'm not sure that we've been getting that same approach from the Clinton campaign. But I'm confident that once we decide on a nominee, we go through the convention, that, in fact, the party's going to be unified.

CORNISH: Clinton herself had already moved on. In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Clinton made no mention of Mississippi and no mention of the announcement from the Texas Democratic Party that caucuses in that state awarded more of its delegates to Obama than to her. Instead, she kept her focus on the next state that votes in six weeks.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York, Presidential Candidate): We're going to go work across Philadelphia, across Pennsylvania. We're going to put together a winning team, and we're going to go with your help all the way to the White House. Thank you all very much, and God bless you.

CORNISH: Pennsylvania is indeed a lot to look forward to. The state has a whopping 158 delegates at stake and a chance to set one candidate or the other on the path to the nomination.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, Jackson, Mississippi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.