Obama and Clinton at Feb. 21 Texas debate.

(WOMENSENEWS)– Hillary Clinton won the Texas primary with 51 percent of voters’ support and Barack Obama had 48 percent.

Latinas went most heavily for Clinton among all demographic groups in the tight race, according to New York Times exit polls. They supported her with 66 percent of their vote; the next highest percentage came from Latino men, with 58 percent. Latinos were 30 percent of all exit poll voters. About 33 percent of Hispanic women and 40 percent of men voted for Obama.

Obama handily won 85 percent of African American support. White men were split evenly while 59 percent of white women supported Clinton and 40 percent supported Obama.

Clinton won 68 percent of all Hispanic voters’ support, who were 34 percent of exit poll voters, according to CNN polling. Among Hispanics 60 and older 81 percent supported Clinton, and 71 percent of Hispanics ages 45 to 59 voted for her.

In the Republican race, which Arizona Sen. John McCain won, Hispanics represented 9 percent of total voters, and 49 percent supported his opponent, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. On Tuesday evening, McCain declared hiimself the Republican nominee and Huckabee dropped out of the race.

Polling predictions and voting patterns in Texas indicated that New York Sen. Hillary Clinton would end up owing a major “muchas gracias” to Hispanic women in Texas, which joined Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont in holding primaries Tuesday.

Before the ballots were cast, about 71 percent of the state’s Hispanic women supported Clinton, according to a Texas Credit Union League poll of Texas primary voters published Feb. 14.

Hispanic men in Texas also favored Clinton, but to a lesser extent, with 54 percent.

“There are many Hispanic women who feel she is pro-family and pro-children, and that is something that appeals to them,” said political science professor Gretchen Ritter, director of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

Texas’ 8.6 million Hispanic residents, who are evenly split between men and women, represent 19 percent of the nation’s Hispanics and one-quarter of eligible Texas voters. Only New Mexico has a larger Hispanic share of its electorate, according to a Feb. 20 fact sheet from Washington think tank Pew Hispanic Center. In a Feb. 21 report, Pew projected Latinos would cast at least a third of all votes in the Texas primary.

Texas allows early voting and by Feb. 28, over 512,000 people had cast ballots in the Democratic primary, four times as many as in 2004, according to a Feb. 28 Associated Press report. About 173,000 Republican voters had cast early votes. Voters are also allowed to cross party lines to cast ballots.

Hispanic women backed Clinton in Super Tuesday states by a substantial 35-point margin; 67 percent supported Clinton, 32 percent went for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. Hispanic men also supported Clinton, but by a more slender 18-point margin of 58 percent to 40 percent.

Dead Heat in Texas

Clinton had seen her double-digit polling advantage in Texas in January give way to a dead heat in pre-election polls as Obama’s campaign racked up wins in 11 consecutive primaries after neatly dividing the voting pie on Feb. 5, when 24 states held contests.

A March 1 American Research Group poll showed Clinton leading Obama in Ohio, 51 percent to 44 percent. In Texas, however, the poll found Clinton and Obama tied, with 47 percent of the vote apiece.

Among the Republicans, McCain polled with a lead of 61 percent of the Texas voters while former Huckabee took about 26 percent.

One sour note in Clinton’s love affair with Latinas is the Feb. 10 staff shakeup that tumbled Patti Solis Doyle from her post as the first Latina to manage a presidential campaign.

In response two Hispanic leaders–New York state legislators Sen. Ruben Diaz and Assemblyman Jose Peralta–fired off an open letter to Clinton warning it would be “very troubling” if Doyle did not resign of her own accord but was forced out.

After the reshuffling Doyle promised to travel with Clinton, particularly to Texas, where she has connections, but news reports offered no sightings of her there.

Ritter said Doyle’s exit does not seem to have made many waves, but that Obama has been slicing into her support.

“It is less solid than it was, and it seems that day-to-day base of support is getting a little bit softer,” said Ritter.

Clinton’s Hispanic Youth Advantage

Young Hispanic voters have shown up in large numbers to support Clinton in earlier contests. On Super Tuesday, 62 percent of Hispanics aged 17 to 29 voted for Clinton. Specifically, young Hispanic women aged 17 to 29 gave her 67 percent of their vote. By contrast, Hispanic men aged 17 to 29 split their vote, 49 percent for each Clinton and Obama.

“There’s no question that Hillary Clinton, if she wins here, she will owe that partly to Hispanic voters,” Ritter said before Tuesday vote. “She’s won respect and loyalty for her very long history of partnering and working with people in the Hispanic community goes way back.”

Clinton began her political career decades ago by working for Democratic presidential hopeful George McGovern in voting drives for Latinos in the Rio Grande Valley, a memory she mentions often in her Texas stump speeches.

Obama spent about $10 million in television advertising in Texas, compared to Clinton’s under $4 million, the New York Times reported March 2. Both campaigns are spending about twice as much in Texas as they are in Ohio.

Clinton attracted Dolores Huerta, a co-founder of the United Farm Workers Union, to her Dallas campaign stops. Huerta endorsed Clinton’s stance on issues from health care to immigration laws.

Latino Endorsements for Obama

Obama unrolled his own list of Hispanic-friendly endorsements, including from Texas’ oldest Hispanic group, the Mexican American Democrats, and Spanish-speaking former Democratic candidate Chris Dodd, the senior senator from Connecticut. Obama has also blogged about his immigration policies on the popular site Latina Lista.

Adriana Maestas, a 31-year-old graduate student in higher education and communications firm consultant who runs Latinopoliticsblog.com out of her home in southern California, has kept an eye on the candidates’ outreach to the Latino community.

She said Obama’s approach has been consistent with his overall grassroots strategy. His Web site matches Spanish-speaking volunteers to potential Hispanic voters in the state. While Clinton targets other women by mentioning the high-ranking Latinas in her campaign, Obama connects Latina supporters with other Hispanic voters.

Clinton’s approach has been to advertise the candidate’s high standing among Latinas. Maestas, for instance, said the campaign sent her a link to a Latina magazine candidate profile of Doyle to consider for her Web site.

Laura Hernandez is unwaveringly pro-Clinton. She is president of the University Democrats at the University of Texas at Austin and is actively campaigning for a candidate for the first time. She introduced Bill Clinton at a local rally and greeted the senator at the Feb. 21 debate held at her school.

She cites Clinton’s plan to make college more affordable and create universal health care as two key issues in her favor. “This is just an exciting, unprecedented time, especially for Texas voters,” she said.

Alison Bowen is a New York City-based reporter covering the presidential campaign for Women’s eNews. Her work also appears in the New York Daily News.

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