Wednesday, November 12, 2008

III - Texas Turn Democrat? Maybe,0,1205086.story?track=rss
Democrats set sights on Texas

Many Latinos, for instance, are angry at Republicans for the harsh anti-illegal-immigration rhetoric used by some in the party in blocking a path to citizenship for undocumented workers. African Americans turned out in large numbers -- and voted almost unanimously for the Democrat -- because of the historic nature of Obama's candidacy to be the first black president.

Moreover, polls showed voters moved to Obama when the global financial crisis hit and stocks plunged. And the percentage approval rating of the Republican president was mired in the low 20s.

Republican strategists concede that their party faces some demographic challenges with the Latino vote growing and moving toward Democrats. But they dismissed the idea that Tuesday's results paved the way for a long-term GOP deficit.

"We're certainly at a disadvantage right now, but these things tend to be cyclical," said Neil Newhouse, a Republican pollster. "We'll find our voice again soon."

GOP officials have already begun searching for that voice, with party leaders set to hold at least two different meetings this week, one hosted by the South Carolina party chairman and another by the conservative group GOPAC. Among the topics being debated: how to try to bring minorities back into the Republican fold.

Greg Strimple, a GOP strategist who advised the McCain campaign, argued that Republicans would regain their footing because elections are decided by centrist voters who tend to shift between the parties.

Little coattail effect seen

There were signs that a strong finish Tuesday by Obama did not necessarily help other Democrats down the ballot -- suggesting that this new ethnic coalition could have more to do with Obama himself than an overall shift toward Democrats.

Obama, for example, scored a dramatic win in Florida's Miami-Dade County, beating McCain by 140,000 votes after an aggressive campaign to register minorities and get them to the polls.

But the GOP's three Cuban American members of Congress in Miami-Dade all won reelection, beating well-financed Democrats who had hoped to ride Obama's coattails. Two of those Democratic campaigns had even coordinated with Obama's team on the ground.

The president-elect's double-digit win in Minnesota did not rub off on Democratic Senate contender Al Franken, who finished narrowly behind an incumbent Republican and now faces a recount.

And in Indiana, where Obama poured in money and hundreds of staffers and beat McCain, the state's Republican governor won reelection in a landslide, along with other GOP candidates.

Still, exit polls in Indiana showed the potential for a durable Democratic formula: a slight increase in the Latino share of the vote, up to 4%, with nearly 8 in 10 backing Obama, and a turnaround among Indiana voters ages 18 to 29 who backed Bush in 2004 but this time supported Obama.

Nationally, two-thirds of voters 29 and younger supported Obama, compared with just more than half four years ago who voted for Democrat John F. Kerry.

Obama also cut his losses in the Republican-leaning suburbs, such as Hamilton County outside Indianapolis, where Bush's 2004 victory margin of more than 50,000 was nearly cut in half. And he trimmed margins in some exurban counties such as Pasco on Florida's west coast.

Nationally, the African American vote rose from 11% of the overall electorate to 13% -- a small but substantial gain, particularly when 95% of that group backed Obama.

The Latino share of the vote nationally rose slightly from 2004, but the increases were sharpest in a few states: rising from 8% to 13% in Colorado, from 10% to 15% in Nevada, and from 32% to 41% in New Mexico.

The Latino share rose even in Arizona, McCain's home state. Obama lost there, but his campaign purchased advertising in the final week, perhaps setting the stage for a pickup in four years.

Wallsten is a Times staff writer.

Times staff writer Cynthia Dizikes contributed to this report.

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