No Matter the Choice, Voter Turnout Huge Austin Is Texas' Democratic Stronghold

Article excerpt

Byline: David Beery Daily Herald Political Editor

dbeery@@dailyherald.com

AUSTIN, Texas -"The joke," says University of Texas professor Leslie Jarmon, "is that we're a blue dot in the middle of a red state."

The Democratic blue dot. That would be Austin, home of nearly 700,000 people, Texas state government and one of the nation's largest universities.

But if the city's isolation as a Democratic stronghold in a largely Republican state mildly amuses some denizens, no one - from either party - is treating Tuesday's primary as a laughing matter.

During the state's 11-day early voting period, which ended Friday, Austin voters joined other Texans in shattering previous turnout records. Voting peaked on the final day, when residents waited in lines for up to an hour to cast ballots. The Austin American-Statesman reports that early voting tallies here in Travis County are 243 percent higher than in 2004 among Democratic voters and 52 percent higher among those casting Republican ballots.

Austin's Democrats relish their potentially decisive role in the presidential nomination contest between Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and Park Ridge native and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. From those gathered for a downtown Texas Independence Day parade to those canvassing an exclusive neighborhood, the folks of Austin clearly are engaged and eager to proclaim and vote their views.

Jarmon, for one, says she's tired of being categorized by age and gender. Calling herself a "white-Texas-woman-over-50-for- Obama," Jarmon said she felt disenfranchised for years before Obama arrived on the scene with what she calls a credible and convincing message for change.

That, for Jarmon, is issue No. 1. "With Clinton's campaign, it's Hillary and Bill," Jarmon said. "For me, that's business as usual, writ large."

But for 27-year-old Meredith Stoner, Clinton's track record is an asset - not a liability. Stoner, distributing publicity for a Gloria Steinem "Women for Hillary" event, said of Clinton, "She's been standing up for me - a woman, young, lesbian - for a long time."

Clinton's big obstacle, Stoner said, is what she called fawning media coverage of Obama that accuses Clinton of "whining" while giving a pass to Obama on a range of issues.

Surprisingly high turnout by young adults has marked every primary and caucus conducted this year. It appears that Texas will be no exception, and that may explain, in part, this year's large Democratic turnout in early voting. Travis County Democratic Chairman Chris Elliot attributes the city's Democratic leanings, in part, to the large number of University of Texas students who fall in love with the city and remain to work after graduation.

Just blocks from downtown, University of Texas students studying over bagels and coffee said they have been following the campaign intently.

Nineteen-year-old Madlyn Hatch of Corpus Christi said growing up in south Texas has placed immigration policy near the top of her issues list. …