Clinton voters warm up to Obama

Early exit polls in South Dakota and Montana show Clinton voters are more likely to support Obama in the general election.

Published June 4, 2008 12:45AM (EDT)

Democrats who voted for Hillary Clinton are already showing some signs that they'll recover from the hard feelings the primary campaign may have caused, as exit polls in South Dakota and Montana are both showing Clinton supporters are more willing to vote for Barack Obama in the fall than in previous elections.

In South Dakota's closed primary (meaning everyone who voted is a registered Democrat), 61 percent of Clinton's voters said they'd vote for Obama in November, while only 16 percent said they'd vote for McCain. Another 17 percent said they wouldn't vote. In Montana, 59 percent of Clinton's voters would back Obama. Pollsters are usually suspicious of stats like that, since voters tend to be bad predictors of their own behavior; chances are Obama will actually win over more Clinton voters than that.

But even so, in both of the last two states, Obama is already doing better among Clinton's supporters than he did in places like West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. In those elections, nearly half of Clinton's voters said they wouldn't vote for Obama if he wins the nomination.

Some of the rancor went out of the campaign by the time it hit these final two states, and both candidates more or less stopped talking about the other. That may have helped Clinton's supporters feel more at ease with the idea of Obama as the nominee.

Of course, John McCain is all but certain to win both Montana and South Dakota in the general election, so it really doesn't matter what Clinton voters there say they'll do. But one of Obama's first tasks now that he's locked up the nomination will be to reach out to Clinton supporters and begin to unify the party everywhere.

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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