ANCHORAGE - Alaskans cited experience and values in handing Republican John McCain an overwhelming victory Tuesday over Democrat Barack Obama in the presidential race he ultimately lost in the national vote.
An Associated Press exit poll showed McCain garnering significant support from Alaska voters who said he shared their values and had the right experience to be president. Obama, the president elect, was overwhelmingly backed by voters who said he could bring about needed change.
Voters were most worried about the nation's economy and most leaned toward McCain in their support. McCain and Obama were running almost even among a smaller number of voters who said the Iraq war was the most important issue - surprising for a state with four large military installations.
"I have to go with Obama," said Shelley Cooper. The Anchorage high school teacher has several relatives in Iraq and believes Obama would set a reasonable schedule for getting Americans out of the war.
"McCain would be four more years of the same, no matter what he says," Cooper said. "That's absolutely terrifying."
Most voters surveyed were satisfied with McCain running mate Sarah Palin's performance as governor. But that didn't guarantee support for McCain for about one out of five of these voters, who chose Obama.
Melinda Jacobson, who is registered as an independent, said Palin's place on the GOP ticket made her more convinced about her support for Obama. Jacobson, 54, said her reasons were complicated for backing the Democrat, but included a desire for significant change.
"I've been voting since 1973 and this is the most significant election I've ever voted in or probably ever will vote in," she said. "I had tears in the voting booth. It's the first time I remember voting for someone rather than against someone."
McCain performed best in small cities and rural areas, such as the region that includes Palin's hometown of Wasilla, where she served two terms as mayor. Palin's conservative ideology is shared by many in this area, which sided with McCain almost three-to-one.
Most voters in the heavily white state said the race of the presidential candidates was not important. More than a fourth of white voters, however, said race was a factor. They leaned solidly toward McCain.
In the Senate race, two-thirds of voters said Republican incumbent Ted Stevens' corruption trial was a factor in the tightest campaign Stevens has ever run. Most of those voters supported Democrat Mark Begich, the mayor of Anchorage, Alaska's largest city, over the Senate's longest serving Republican.
Stevens said he will appeal his recent conviction. But that was a turnoff for voters like 23-year-old Philip Adajar, who voted for Begich.
"I think Ted Stevens has his own things to worry about right now," he said.
Republican David Valdez Jr. threw his support to both Stevens and Republican incumbent Congressman Don Young, who was running one of the toughest races of his 18-term career. Valdez said both have done too much for the state to let them go.
"I don't want to give complete control to a Democratic-controlled Congress and Senate," he said.
The survey of 1,294 Alaska voters was conducted for AP by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International. Most were interviewed in a random sample of 20 precincts statewide Tuesday; 258 who voted early or absentee were interviewed by landline telephone over the last week. Results for the full sample were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, higher for subgroups.