McCain's Texas win shows state still GOP

AUSTIN, TX Race results: Key Races | State Representatives | State Senate | Harris County | Ft. Bend County | Galveston County | Montgomery County | Brazoria County | All Races

Although Democrat Barack Obama became the nation's first black president in a resounding victory, Republican Sen. John McCain easily won Texas' 34 electoral votes Tuesday, continuing a string of GOP victories going back three decades.

"Texans are conservative on economic issues, conservative on social issues, conservative on national defense," said Republican consultant Reggie Bashur. "John McCain did not campaign here at all, did not have one office, spent not one dollar and he was still able to win."

McCain led Obama with 55 percent of the vote with nearly half of precincts reporting.

No Democrat has won Texas since Jimmy Carter since 1976, but the party hoped that strong voter turnout and legions of supporters for Obama would help them crack GOP dominance in other statewide races.

It didn't happen.

Even with an Associated Press exit poll reflecting voter dissatisfaction aimed at Republicans over the economic downturn, the war in Iraq and President Bush, Republicans put up a fight to hold on.

"If Washington would just look to the heartland, they would see the blueprint for making us a Republican country again," said Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican. "This is a good night in Texas."

Incumbent GOP Sen. John Cornyn defeated Democrat Rick Noriega. Republicans have held the state's two Senate seats since 1993.

Other GOP victories kept trickling down the ballot.

Incumbent Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, Supreme Court justices Wallace Jefferson, Dale Wainwright, Phil Johnson and Court of Criminal Appeals judges Tom Price and Paul Womack all won re-election.

The last big hope for Democrats was to try to make gains in the state House of Representatives, where Republicans held a 79-71 majority. Democrats needed a net gain of five seats to take over as the majority and oust Republican Speaker Tom Craddick of Midland.

And in Harris County, the state's most populous, Houston-area voters appeared to be giving Democrats back a number of countywide and judicial seats that the Republicans took in 1994.

McCain ran well in Texas among whites, the affluent, evangelical Christians and voters who called themselves independents, according to an Associated Press exit poll.

More than one-third of Texans interviewed as they left their polling places approved of President Bush's performance -- much higher than the national average -- and they overwhelmingly backed McCain.

McCain was winning about two-thirds of the white vote, and nearly three-fifths of those whose families earn more than $50,000 a year.

At a school in Missouri City southwest of Houston, Dawn Stone, 36, the manager of a family-run construction company, said she voted for McCain -- although she usually votes Democratic. She said the deciding factor was McCain's experience and ability to handle the war.

Stone, who said her business has dropped by half because clients can't get loans for construction projects, also said the economic crisis helped her make up her mind.

"I'm hoping McCain gets us out of it," said Stone, adding that she preferred McCain's stance on border and national security issues.

The strong support for McCain came even as voters who identified themselves as Republicans fell below self-identified Democrats.

Yet nearly half called themselves conservative, according to the exit polls. Only about one in six called themselves liberal.

In 2004, 43 percent said they were Republican and 24 percent were independents. On Tuesday, 31 percent said they were Republicans and 33 percent called themselves independents.

Obama, who will be the nation's first black president, polled strongly among blacks and Hispanics. Hispanics favored Obama 2-to-1, after nearly splitting down the middle between Democrats and Republicans in 2004.

Lupe Ramirez voted for Bush in 2004, but four years later, she voted for a different party.

"I voted for him (Bush) because I was thinking that things were going to change for the better," said Ramirez, 73. "This time, I like Obama."

Ramirez, who emigrated from Durango, Mexico, to El Paso in 1954 and became a citizen in 1971, said she sees Obama as the best candidate to change the country's direction. She said she likes what he's promised, including social benefits, and the way he has campaigned.

Obama fared better in Texas's major cities, including San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, El Paso and Austin. He also led in Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley, where the population is almost entirely Hispanic.

McCain, however, did well in the white affluent suburbs and east Texas, including Collin County, one of the nation's most GOP counties outside Dallas, and Montgomery County, just north of Houston. McCain was also doing well in Tyler and Beaumont.

McCain took nearly three-fifths of suburban voters and two-thirds of those in small towns -- 10,000 to 50,000.

Texas elections officials predicted more than 9 million Texans -- a record turnout -- would cast ballots, representing about 68 percent of the state's 13.5 million voters. More voters turned out in 1992, but not as many since then.

An exit poll of 1,944 Texas voters was conducted for AP by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International. Most were interviewed in a random sample of 30 precincts statewide Tuesday; 591 who voted early or absentee were interviewed by landline telephone over the last week. Results for the full sample were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, higher for subgroups.

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