Winning Votes, Hearts & Minds

Winning Votes, Hearts & Minds

Hillary Clinton may have won Texas, but the huge crowds participating for the first time in the primary and caucuses were there mainly because of Barack Obama.


Written off by many, outspent two-to-one on media buys, outperformed at big events, and confronted by a youthful insurgency it didn’t seem to understand, Hillary Clinton’s Texas campaign staff delivered the state for her. If the clever (but now clichéd) movie headline for a victory by Barack Obama’s youthful Texas corps would have been No Country for Old Men, Clinton’s movie metaphor is of the same vintage as her Texas campaign. Think Cat Ballou, the comedy western released seven years before Hillary Rodham and Bill Clinton arrived in the Lower Rio Grande Valley to register Mexican-American voters George McGovern in 1972.

It’s been years since any of the big players on Clinton’s team have had a dog in the hunt in Texas. Like the worn-out gunfighter played by Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou, they had to be taught to ride and shoot again. Their marquee name, Garry Mauro, was elected land commissioner in 1983 and ended his political career in 1998, losing the governor’s race to George W. Bush by 69 to 71 margin. Ex-state senators Carlos Truan and Gonzalo Barrientos have been out of the game for years. South Texas political boss Billy Leo is an old lion. Even Roy Spence, who produced the 3 am in the White House TV spot, has moved on from political to corporate clients. (The ad cut from children peacefully sleeping in their home to a phone ominously ringing in the White House–the right mix of fear and reassurance Hillary would be there to answer.)

Early voting suggested the Obama youth movement would carry the state. Houston Chronicle reporter R.G. Ratcliffe had looked at the early voters in the Democratic primary and found that 50 percent had not voted in the party’s past three primary elections.

The record 28 percent turnout at the polls pointed to an Obama win.

And many of the state’s 8,000 voting precinct caucuses, by tradition tedious affairs and attended by ten to twenty local party regulars, were overwhelmed by Obama supporters–almost all of whom had never before attended a local caucus. Crowds swelled to three and four hundred at many urban precincts. At one Dallas church, a crowd of 2,000 tried to get into a hall that could accommodate 300.

With 38 percent of the caucuses (which convene after the polls close) reporting Wednesday morning, Obama held a 56-44 margin. The caucuses award one-third of the 193 delegates available in the primary, so Obama still might win the delegate race by a slim margin after losing at the popular vote.

But Clinton’s team got Hispanic voters to the polls in sufficient numbers to provide her a 51-to-48 popular vote margin. Mauro had insisted that Clinton would carry the state if she could keep her Hispanic vote percentage above 60 percent. Exit polls had Clinton winning two-thirds of the Hispanic vote, which made up 30 percent of the Democratic primary vote. Blacks, who were 20 percent of the primary turnout, went seven-to-one for Obama. Not enough to counter Hispanic turnout for Clinton.

The Hispanic vote, which Bush and Karl Rove peeled away from the Democratic party, has returned home to the Democrats. But the huge, enthusiastic crowds spending hours at caucuses in high-growth metropolitan areas of Austin, Dallas and Houston represent the future of the Democratic Party in Texas. And that was largely a creation of Barack Obama.

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