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Exit polls: Why McCain won, mood of voters

Older voters are dependable voters.

That was never more true than Saturday, when more than a third of the voters who braved frigid wind and rain to cast ballots in the GOP primary were 60 and older, exit polling showed.

And one of their own, 71-year old U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, won the lion's share of their votes, propelling him to a close victory over former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

McCain would be the oldest man ever elected to the presidency, but that didn't stop older voters from casting their ballots for him.

The senator won more than 40 percent of the 60 and older vote, outpacing the roughly 24 percent received by Huckabee.

South Carolina was thought to be particularly fertile ground for Huckabee, a Baptist preacher who rode his religious roots to a surprising victory in Iowa.

Indeed, almost 60 percent of those surveyed described themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians.

Huckabee won about 40 percent of their votes but failed to swamp McCain, who got about 27 percent of the evangelical or born-again vote.

Many evangelical and born-again voters live in the Piedmont. Voters there were evenly divided between McCain and Huckabee.

McCain won by large margins in the Lowcountry, where many retirees and military families live.

In the Midlands, the race was just about even, with Huckabee enjoying a slight edge.

Columbia did not have the icy rain voters in parts of the Upstate trudged through, but some of those voting here seemed to cast their ballots with resignation rather than excitement.

Boyd Milling, who voted in Blythewood, said the country badly needs strong leadership. He would not say for whom he voted, but he did say none seem up to the difficult, complicated job of running the country.

"I don't think any of them can handle that," Milling said. "There is no leadership. Anybody can spout off and say, `I'm going to do this. I'm going to do that.' Nobody's got a plan."

Christie Lomas, who voted for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, said he, too, was less than enthusiastic about the GOP field.

"I'd like to see a return to constitutional government, with conservative, fiscal responsibility," said Lomas, who also voted in Blythewood. "And close the border."

Illegal immigration generated heated debate in earlier primaries, but voters here said the economy was their top concern.

South Carolina ranks third in the country with an unemployment rate of 6.6 percent.

About 40 percent of those polled said the economy was the most important issue facing the country.

Those voters split their support between McCain and Huckabee.

Just over a quarter of voters said illegal immigration was the nation's top issue. Huckabee had only a slight edge over McCain in winning their support.

The senator from Arizona had been heavily criticized by some conservatives because he supports a plan that eventually allow illegal immigrants to become citizens eventually.

More than half of those surveyed Saturday said illegal immigrants should be deported to the country they came from. Even though McCain does not share that view, more than a quarter of those who do voted for him.

President Bush was not on the ballot Saturday, but he is on the minds of voters as the race to succeed him unfolds.

Two-thirds of those surveyed said they have positive feelings about the Bush administration.

Those voters were evenly split between Huckabee and McCain.

Just more than half of those surveyed said they were satisfied but not enthusiastic about the Bush administration.

"Bush has made a lot of mistakes," Milling said, "but he's had a tough presidency."

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