Rural Texans carried day for Clinton
March 6, 2008
Rural Texans delivered the swing vote that made Hillary Rodham Clinton the popular vote winner of this week's Democratic presidential primary, even if the caucuses made Barack Obama the apparent champion among pledged delegates.
Written by R.G. Ratcliffe and Peggy Fikac, The Houston Chronicle
AUSTIN — Rural Texans delivered the swing vote that made Hillary Rodham Clinton the popular vote winner of this week's Democratic presidential primary, even if the caucuses made Barack Obama the apparent champion among pledged delegates.
The popular vote turnout Tuesday set a stunning record for a Democratic primary, with more than 2.8 million ballots cast — exceeding the general election turnout received either by Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000 or John Kerry in 2004.
A Houston Chronicle analysis of the Texas secretary of state's Democratic primary returns also found that Clinton's base of support among Hispanics gave her a lead in the popular vote over Obama, whose base of support was among urban blacks and University of Texas students.
That Clinton edge was wiped out in suburban Republican areas where a majority cast their ballots for Obama.
But when it came to rural Texas, eight of the state's nine rural senatorial districts went for Clinton.
They delivered 55 percent of their vote to her and accounted for most of her statewide margin of victory.
The end result of a month of political rallies and more than $9 million in television advertising is that Clinton gets to claim a popular vote victory in Texas, while the caucuses apparently will allow Obama to leave the state with at least three more of its pledged nominating convention delegates than Clinton, according to preliminary data provided by the Texas secretary of state and Texas Democratic Party.
The Texas Democratic Party allocates 126 national convention delegates based on the popular vote in each of the state's 31 senatorial districts, and an additional 67 pledged national delegates are allotted based on precinct caucuses.
The delegate totals determined in Tuesday's primary and caucuses don't include the 35 superdelegates, who make their own decisions on who to support.
Possible legal challenge
Caucus delegates still were being determined in the wake of reports from some areas of long lines, crowded facilities and "occasional interference from overzealous organizers from competitive presidential campaigns," said party chairman Boyd Richie, adding that most caucus-goers treated each other with "patience and respect."
Clinton campaign spokeswoman Adrienne Elrod, saying Texas yielded an unprecedented number of caucus concerns and complaints, said her camp was considering all options, including a legal challenge.
Obama campaign spokesman Josh Earnest said the Clinton campaign was merely attempting to discredit a process that left their candidate trailing in the delegate count.
When it came to the popular vote, Clinton had made Hispanic South Texas the foundation of her campaign in the state, and it paid off in a big way with a margin of victory over Obama in Hispanic districts that exceeded 200,000 votes. She carried Hispanic districts with anywhere from 61 percent to 69 percent of the vote.
But because of the record turnout, the region's overall impact was diminished.
In the past several elections, South Texas has accounted for about a third of the total Democratic primary turnout. In this election, Hispanic senatorial districts made up 22 percent of the total statewide turnout.
Clinton's Hispanic strength showed nowhere as clearly as the district of Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, where she won with about 64 percent of the vote, while two adjacent districts heavily populated by African-Americans gave Obama more than 60 percent.
Obama's margin of victory in his base areas was more than 176,000 votes. That was short of Clinton's base vote, but Obama made up for it with a 34,000-vote margin of victory in Republican suburban areas.
Political scientist Jerry Polinard of the University of Texas-Pan American said Clinton's national-security ad in the campaign's closing days likely made a difference in rural areas.
The ad, which featured a telephone ringing in the White House at 3 a.m. and images of children sleeping in their homes, suggested Clinton would be better able to protect Americans in the event of a crisis.
"I think certainly when we look at what issues played better in certain constituencies, national security is probably linked pretty directly to pickup drivers — the No Country for Old Men kind of approach," Polinard said, referring to the Academy Award-winning movie.
Political scientist Henry Flores of St. Mary's University in San Antonio said the African-American community in East Texas has "been split all along in their support between Obama and Hillary."
The white working-class community in East Texas, meanwhile, "went for Hillary not necessarily because of what she offered, but because of what Obama was saying," Flores said. "His rhetoric surrounding change wasn't resonating well with white working folks" who didn't see it as new and saw Clinton as offering more specifics.
In West Texas, Clinton won three of the four districts by more than 60 percent of the vote.
Lubbock County Chair Susan Barrick of the Democratic Party said it's unclear how the delegate count would shake out in her area, but the popular vote swung to Clinton, whose surrogates heavily worked the area.
There were visits by former Gen. Wesley Clark, Chelsea Clinton and former President Bill Clinton, whose approximately hour-long speech was carried live on local news stations without commercial interruption, she said.
Barrick said it's "a rather conservative area of the country," so voters may have been influenced by Clinton being "a known quantity."
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