The 2008 race for the Democratic presidential nomination will produce the first African-American president or the first woman president.

On Super Tuesday, according to exit polls, African-American voters continued to give Obama important wins in states where they were often definitional players — Alabama, Georgia, Illinois and, most notably, Missouri.

Obama’s overall margin among African-American voters who cast ballots in the almost two-dozen Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses was very close to what a general election lead for a Democratic nominee: 82 percent for the Illinois senator to 17 percent for New York Senator Hillary Clinton. Even in states he lost, Obama’s strong African-American support kept him competitive in the race for delegates. Look at Hillary Clinton’s New York, where African-American Democrats made up 14 percent of the overall electorate and favored Obama 61-37 — though, significantly, Clinton won 43 percent of African-American women.

Female voters gave Clinton essential victories all across the country on Super Tuesday. She was winning roughly 60 percent of the votes of white women in states where white men — freed up by the exit of populist John Edwards — were dividing up about evenly between the candidates. Clinton’s surprisingly easy wins in Massachusetts, New Jersey and several other key states were products of those wide margins among women.

In California, men broke 46-45 for Obama, according to exit polls. Women went 59-34 for Clinton.

Says National Organization for Women president Kim Gandy, “The women’s vote carried Hillary Clinton to victory in delegate-rich states that will put her ahead in the ultimate delegate count. Her historic race has energized the gender gap, which is key because women make up the majority of voters in the general election. The gender gap, a significant margin among Hispanic voters, and confidence in her strength on the economy will all give Clinton a strong advantage against John McCain in November.”

But couldn’t the same be said of African-American voters? In most places where it mattered, yes.

So who is deciding a lot of the key race: Hispanics.

And they are voting for Clinton.

As they had in the Nevada caucuses last month, Hispanics gave Clinton essential wins in California and Arizona. They helped her along in New Jersey. Even in states where Obama was winning, Clinton’s strength among Hispanic voters kept her in the running for delegates. For instance, in Obama’s Illinois, Latino Democrats made up 15 percent of the Democratic primary electorate. They split 51 percent for Clinton, 48 percent for Obama.

Ultimately, Hispanics favored Clinton by a 2-1 margin nationally. In the state where it mattered most, California, Latino Democrats gave Clinton 73 percent of the vote.

If Clinton secures the nomination, it will be the Hispanic vote that will have carried her across the line in the races she had to win.

In the midst of a fight over immigration that has so frequently seen Republicans target them for attack, Hispanics have moved in increasing numbers into the Democratic camp.

And they are now playing a potentially definitional role.

That role is as the essential component of Hillary Clinton’s coalition.

If these trends continues, and if she wins the nomination, Clinton will — in the electoral sense that politicians tend to take most seriously — be the first Hispanic president.