The facts: Barack Obama won 38 percent of white Dems in NC, and didn’t do much better amongst whites in IN (35 percent). In exit polls of 1,881 IN Dems and 2,316 NC voters, two out of three Hillary Clinton supporters said they would be dissatisfied if he is their party’s nominee.

How much of Obama’s poor showing amongst whites is due to the lingering echo of the racist, anti-American comments Rev. Jeremiah Wright has repeatedly made from the pulpit and the podium, and how much is attributable to conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh’s “Operation Chaos”?

The Associated Press reports that Wright had little impact in either state because the electorate was already polarized along racial lines long before the revolutionary rev’s rhetoric came to light:

† Six in 10 white voters in both states supported Hillary Rodham Clinton … close to the average 57 percent of whites who had backed the New York senator in Democratic primaries since Super Tuesday, which was Feb. 5. It’s also slightly below the 63 percent of whites who voted for her in Pennsylvania and 69 percent in Mississippi, the most recent contests before Tuesday’s voting.

† Whites lacking college degrees favored Clinton over Obama by 31 percentage points in Indiana and 45 points in North Carolina. Since Super Tuesday, she has triumphed over Obama among this group by an average 30 points, including 41 points in Pennsylvania and 55 points in Mississippi. … Other than liberal Vermont, Wisconsin is the only state where Obama has won more than half of whites who have not graduated college.

† White men leaned toward Clinton on Tuesday, as she got 59 percent in Indiana and 55 percent in North Carolina. Clinton got 57 percent of their votes in Pennsylvania and 67 percent in Mississippi.

Wright’s influence would have been strongest amongst late deciders in both states, yet exit polls did not bear this out. Wright was cited as an important factor by the 25 percent of IN white voters who picked their candidate within the past month, and the 25 percent who knew which candidate would get their vote more than a month ago. Ditto NC, where 25 percent of whites also made up their minds late in the game and cited Wright as an important factor in their vote, along with the 30 percent of white voters who chose their candidate early.   

Hillary got 87 percent of these “Wright-thinking” IN late deciders and 92 percent in NC – compared to 86 percent of these IN early deciders and 91 percent in NC. In other words, in neither state did Wright affect the choice of early or late white voters.

Bottom line: Wright did not make white Dem voters any more likely to vote for Hillary.

Although Obama’s campaign is convinced that IN might have narrowly gone his way if crossover Republicans hadn’t skewed the outcome – Hillary won by just 14,000 votes – Rush’s effect on the outcome of the contest trickier to tease out. (The NC results are so lopsidedly in Obama’s favor because of the size of the black vote it’s not worth considering how much, if any, influence Operation Chaos had in that state).

The Washington Post reports:

As he had before several recent primaries, Limbaugh encouraged listeners to vote for Clinton to “bloody up Obama politically” and prolong the Democratic fight. …

In Indiana, 10 percent of Democratic primary voters described themselves as Republicans, a higher rate than in any state but Mississippi, and they went for Clinton by eight percentage points, according to exit polls. …

By contrast, Obama won Republican voters, often by very large margins, in seven of the eight states where exit polls were able to report the group before the Texas and Ohio primaries on March 4, when Limbaugh first coaxed listeners to vote for Clinton. …

Also notable was that in Indiana, six in 10 Republicans who supported Clinton on Tuesday said they would vote for presumptive GOP nominee John McCain over Clinton in the fall, if that were the matchup. By contrast, most Republicans who voted for Obama said they would back him against McCain. …

But at least as much data suggested that many Republicans voted for Clinton because the Democratic primary was the more meaningful one and because they simply preferred her to Obama. In Indiana, about nine in 10 GOP Clinton voters said she would make a better commander in chief, and more than six in 10 said she would have a better shot at beating McCain.

And Clinton’s edge among Indiana Republicans was relatively small, if set against the broader racial divisions in the contest. Her eight-point advantage among Republicans, nearly all of whom are white in the state, was much narrower than it was among white Democrats, whom she won by nearly 2 to 1 over Obama.

Which means Rush didn’t make white voters any less likely to vote for Obama, again because even in IN the effect of racial polarization dwarfed the effect of Operation Chaos.

However, the size of the Republican crossover vote does have implications in the general election – and belies Hillary’s contention that will fare better against John McCain than Obama will.

The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait notes that the exit poll results show “7% of the Indiana electorate, voted for Clinton in the primary but have no intention of supporting her in the fall’:

Now, this isn’t a precise measure of the “Limbaugh effect” – no doubt there are some Republicans who backed Obama in the primary out of anti-Clinton sentiment, but plan to vote for McCain in November. But it is a good place to start when making a ballpark estimate. And it’s a sizeable number.

How sizeable? The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein does the math:

Among the 17 percent of primary goers who said they would choose Sen. John McCain over Hillary Clinton in a hypothetical general election match-up, 41 percent of that group came from Clinton’s own camp. … [s]even percent … (40 percent of 17 percent) said they would defect to the Republican should she end up the nominee. That would be a difficult punch to stomach in November. In 2004, nearly 1 million Indianans voted for John Kerry. A seven percent defection rate would have meant 70,000 less votes.

Tea leaf reading is, by definition, subjective. It’s one thing for a Dem to go into a voting booth and pull the lever for one candidate or the other – with the exception of a Bradley Effect, whatever criteria used to make the choice can be quantified in exit polling. It’s more difficult to measure the effect of Operation Chaos in exit polling, because in addition to determining why a crossover voter chose one candidate over the other, you need to consider how (s)he intends to vote in November.

One thing is clear: Republicans who voted for Hillary were really voting against Obama, and can be expected to abandon Hillary in favor of McCain in the general election. What about Republicans who voted for Obama? Some, no doubt, sincerely believe him to be the best candidate in the race. Others might just have been much quicker on the draw than Rush, who has called off Operation Chaos because “I now believe he would be the weakest of the Democrat nominees.”

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog, chosen an Official Honoree in the Political Blogs category by the judges of the 12th Annual Webby Awards (the Oscars of the online universe) along with CNN Political Ticker, Swampland (Time magazine) and The Caucus (The New York Times).

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