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Inside Politics

Exit polls: Electability on Democrats' minds

Exit poll respondents said they think Sen. John Kerry can beat President Bush.
Exit poll respondents said they think Sen. John Kerry can beat President Bush.

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CNN's Judy Woodruff on Sen. John Kerry's wins in Tennessee and Virginia.
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Retired Gen. Wesley Clark thanks his supporters for their efforts.
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John Kerry says his Southern wins show that he has national support.
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Despite finishing second, John Edwards says he's excited about his prospects.
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Howard Dean says his supporters want fundamental change.
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(CNN) -- Sen. John Kerry's perceived ability to beat President Bush in November apparently resonated among voters in the Virginia and Tennessee Democratic primaries who responded in balloting Tuesday.

In Virginia, for example, nearly 90 percent of exit poll respondents said they thought Kerry would likely beat Bush in a face-to-face matchup.

And among the nearly four in 10 respondents in both states who thought "electability" was more important than a candidate's stance on particular issues, Kerry was the choice by at least a 3-2 margin.

Exit polls also showed Kerry's appeal with key demographic groups, including African-Americans, veterans and seniors.

And the four-term senator from Massachusetts ran strong in every economic group, particularly among people making less than $50,000 a year, the exit polls showed.

In Virginia, Kerry was the choice of nearly two-thirds of respondents 65 and older. In Tennessee, the proportion was slightly more than half.

Kerry ran stronger among black respondents in Virginia than in Tennessee, the exit polls showed. In Virginia, more than two-thirds said they voted for him, and in Tennessee slightly less than half said they did. In fact, in both states, a higher proportion of African-Americans told exit pollsters they voted for him than did whites.

The black vote in Virginia contrasted with last week's South Carolina primary, in which more than half the voters were black. In that contest, Kerry nearly split the African-American vote with Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, with Edwards showing a slight edge.

In Tuesday's contests, Edwards was a distant second to Kerry in Virginia among black voters, and in Tennessee he ran third, behind retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, the polls showed.

Kerry also ran well among respondents who said they were veterans, taking about half in each state.

By contrast, Clark, who has reached out to veterans in the campaign, was the choice of only about one in 10 respondents in Virginia. In Tennessee, the proportion was closer to one in six.

Edwards took about a quarter of the veteran vote in Tennessee, and slightly less in Virginia, according to the respondents.

Although the Virginia and Tennessee exit polls showed Clark third in most categories, it was often a distant third to the contest between Kerry and Edwards.

Kerry was the favorite among Virginia respondents who said they were independents, but Edwards was a close second. In Tennessee, the two were about even among independent respondents.

In Tennessee, the worse shape that respondents thought the economy was in, the more likely they were to vote for Kerry, the polls showed.

More than eight in 10 Tennessee respondents said they thought the state of the national economy was either not good or poor. Of those, more than two in five said they voted for Kerry, compared with less than three in 10 for Edwards. Of those who said the national economy was either excellent or good, Edwards led Kerry.

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