Hispanic voters boost Clinton's hopes in TX

DALLAS, TX Clinton might also be glad she ran a late round of commercials that questioned Sen. Barack Obama's ability to be commander in chief.

Voters who made up their minds in the last three days before Tuesday's primary broke strongly for Clinton, according to an exit poll for The Associated Press and television networks. The poll pointed to a very close race.

Overall, Texas Democrats were more likely to view Clinton as better qualified to be commander in chief and believe that she offered clear and detailed plans to solve the country's problems. They viewed Obama as more inspirational.

About half the voters named the economy as the top issue, and they divided evenly. Obama had an edge among those who named the war in Iraq, and Clinton had an advantage among those who named health care.

Roughly four in 10 said the most important characteristic for candidates was the ability to create change, and Obama carried three-fourths of them.

But the next biggest group, at more than one in four, focused on experience, and they broke 10-to-1 for Clinton over Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois.

In the Republican primary, voters also named the economy the top issue, followed closely by terrorism and the war in Iraq.

GOP voters said they most looked for a candidate who shared their values, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee carried that group. The next two qualities were experience and saying what he believes, and presumptive nominee Sen. John McCain won with those voters.

The exit poll pointed to a very close race between Clinton and Obama, with Hispanics and white women holding the key if Clinton won.

Obama scored lopsided margins with black voters -- nearly 6-to-1 -- but they accounted for only one in five Democratic primary voters compared to one in three who were Hispanic.

Many Hispanics said they appreciated the Clinton campaign's attention to south Texas.

"The Clintons have been here. They know what's going on down here," said Monique Cano, a college student who saw Clinton at a rally last month in Mission.

The gender gap seen in previous primaries surfaced again -- Obama won among men; Clinton among women.

"It's not a man's world no more," said Mary Valenzuela, a retired court clerk in San Antonio. "She's had to fight the odds to succeed and survive."

Nearly two-thirds of voters 65 and older backed Clinton, while Obama scored nearly as well among those under 30 and carried voters in their 30s and 40s.

About one-fourth of those voting in the open Democratic primary called themselves independents, and one in 10 said they were Republicans. Both groups favored Obama, while Clinton had a lead among Democrats.

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh had urged Texas Republicans to cross over and vote for Clinton to slow Obama. Republicans made up twice as big a slice of the Democratic primary electorate as they did in 2000 and 2004, but they were trending slightly toward Obama.

Poorer and less educated voters tended to favor Clinton; more affluent voters and those with a college degree backed Obama. Clinton voters were more worried about their family's financial future.

As important as Hispanics were for Clinton, she helped herself by breaking even among white men and those who called themselves "very liberal," a group that Obama had been winning in other states.

More voters thought Clinton had unfairly attacked Obama than the other way around.

The exit poll showed that the eventual Democratic nominee will have to mend fences for the general election against presumptive Republican nominee McCain.

Only about half of those who voted for Obama said they would be satisfied if Clinton, a second-term senator from New York, rallied to win the nomination.

"If Hillary wins, I'll vote for the Republican," said Jodie Howard, a suburban Dallas woman who recently lost her job as a technology trainer for a homebuilder. "I don't think Hillary has any integrity at all."

Even fewer Clinton supporters -- just over one-third -- said they would be satisfied with Obama.

"There's a lot we don't know about him," Clinton voter Dorothy Martin, who also lives near Dallas, said of Obama. "He's only 46. He hasn't earned this."

Survey results were from interviews of 2,009 Democratic primary voters and 1,332 Republican primary voters conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International in 40 polling places across Texas on Tuesday. Margin of sampling error plus or minus 3 percentage points in the Democratic primary and 4 percentage points in the GOP election. The samples include 434 Democratic voters and 267 Republican voters who voted early or absentee and were surveyed in the past week by telephone.

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