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In the end, Minnesota remained one of the deepest blue states in the nation.

Barack Obama easily defeated John McCain on Tuesday in a state that no GOP nominee has won since 1972, but that seemed until a few weeks ago to be a potential 2008 battleground.

Obama's margin of victory far exceeded the wins in Minnesota recorded by either John Kerry or Al Gore.

An exit poll of voters showed that the coalition he mobilized was both broad and deep, as he held advantages on most issues and among nearly all groups of voters.

"I think two things did it -- first, Barack Obama's message on the economy resonated with Minnesotans," said Jeff Blodgett, who managed Obama's campaign in the state. "Second was the grass-roots campaign we fought here with thousands of volunteers contacting tens of thousands of voters."

The poll, conducted for news organizations in Minnesota and nationwide, showed that female voters left the Republican fold in droves, compared with four years ago.

A similar big shift was seen among the state's youngest voters, its older voters and Protestants. Voters in cities, small towns and rural areas alike peeled away from the GOP nominee, and suburban voters turned away nearly as dramatically.

Obama squarely hit a couple of his campaign's primary targets, running far ahead among first-time voters and those younger than 30, according to the exit poll. But his much-vaunted mobilization of those voting blocs apparently failed to increase their share of the electorate appreciably; the percentage of voters under 30 increased just one point over 2004, while first-time voters were up by two points.

Support for Obama wasn't confined to young voters, as the poll showed him comfortably leading among all age groups.

And the central thrust of his campaign -- crystallized by his slogan, "The change we need" -- appeared to pay dividends: Four out of 10 voters said bringing about needed change was the most important quality in their choice of candidates, and Obama got nearly all of that group's votes.

Obama also scored with voters who described themselves as independents -- roughly a quarter of the electorate.

Similarly, while both candidates had little trouble holding on to their partisan bases, Obama was overwhelmingly favored by Minnesotans who call themselves moderate -- nearly half of those who voted.

And in a campaign where Obama's race was a sometimes-unspoken undercurrent, it appears to have been a nonissue for most Minnesotans. He handily beat McCain among white voters.

Among voters who said the race of the candidates was at least a minor factor, nearly a third of the electorate, he also outpolled McCain.

Economy a factor

The nation's wobbling economy and President Bush's unpopularity combined to create an apparently insurmountable hurdle for McCain in the state, the exit poll indicated.

Nearly two-thirds of voters called the economy the most important issue in the campaign, and Obama about the same among them as he did with the overall electorate. Similarly, those who expressed worries about the direction of the nation's economy favored him; those who said they weren't worried at all, a tiny slice of the electorate, favored McCain.

Among voters who disapproved of the job Bush is doing, about three-fourths of the electorate, Obama was ahead of McCain by a 3-1 margin.

Obama's opposition to the war in Iraq from the start, the source of much of his early support among Democrats during the primaries, also appeared to gain him support in Minnesota. The war was ranked a distant second by voters as the most important issue in the race, and those who cited it overwhelmingly favored Obama.

Income level and support

The poll showed Obama ahead of McCain among voters in all levels of household income and educational attainment.

While McCain easily beat Obama among the part of the GOP base who described themselves as white evangelical or born-again Christians, the candidates were running even with other self-described Christians.

In a campaign that grew increasingly nasty in its final days, voters were more likely to say McCain unfairly attacked Obama than the other way around.

McCain could find some consolation in the fact that he appeared to have a stronger finish than Obama. While Obama was comfortably ahead among voters who said they had decided on a candidate weeks or months ago, McCain closed the gap among those who made their choice in the past few days.

Staff writer Dave Shaffer contributed to this report. Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184