The story of the Texas primary has only just begun

Andrew Gumbel
Thursday 06 March 2008 01:00
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Did Hillary Clinton win or lose in Texas? While she prevailed over Barack Obama in the primary vote tally, by 51 per cent to 48, in a state where the Democratic asylum has seemingly been taken over by the lunatics, that was far from the end of the story.

Texans, uniquely, had the opportunity to vote twice – first in Tuesday's primary, and then directly afterwards in caucuses. The media dubbed this the "Texas two-step", but political scientists and participants alike decided it was just plain nuts.

Many caucus sites were so overwhelmed by voters and so unclear on procedure that the second part of the election stretched on late into the night. In some of the most crowded big-city precincts, primary voting didn't end until close to 11pm – almost four hours after the last of them were admitted at the close of polls. So the caucuses, which couldn't start until the primary finished, turned into the electoral equivalent of a midnight showing of Night of the Living Dead.

The results were as confused as the process. Senator Obama appeared to have the edge in this second election, winning about 52 per cent of caucus votes against 48 per cent for Senator Clinton, but those figures were based on just 36 per cent of returns, with no certainty when the rest might be tallied and reported.

Under Texas Democratic Party rules, two-thirds of the state's 193 pledged delegates are allocated based on the primary, and one-third based on the caucuses. But the mathematics is far from straightforward, and it is distinctly possible that Senator Obama will end up slightly ahead even in the primary delegate count.

Rather than basing the delegate allocation on the statewide popular vote, Texas Democrats divide the process into 31 distinct parts, one for each district represented in the upper house of the state legislature.

Those senate districts are then weighted according to voter turnout for the Democratic candidate in the last two statewide elections. Senator Obama's good fortune is that his strongholds – the urban areas around Dallas, Houston and Austin – saw much higher turnout in 2004 and 2006 than Senator Clinton's strongholds in rural areas and Latino-dominated south and west Texas.

The final results might not be known for days and won't do much to alter the emerging picture – which is that Mr Obama remains less than decisively ahead in both the overall delegate count and in the overall popular vote, and that Mrs Clinton has no obvious way to overtake him between now and the end of primary season in June.

Despite the deadlock, Texan voters were delighted to have a place in the national political spotlight for the first time since the 1960 presidential election and flocked to the polls in unprecedented numbers, with almost 4 million voting in the primary alone.

For rolling comment on the US election visit: independent.co.uk/campaign08

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