Houston gears up for record-smashing Texas primary

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In oil-metropolis Houston, our Americas managing editor, Stephen Burns is all set for Tuesday’s primary …

Still digesting the advent of $100/bbl oil (he writes), the US Gulf chemical industry is about to be hit with another first – a primary election in Texas on 4 March that will actually matter in terms of deciding the candidates in the November 2008 presidential election.

In more typical election years, the Republicans and Democrats usually have decided on their candidates before it is the turn of Texans to vote.

But 2008 is a one-of-a-kind, with the Republican front-runner John McCain still dogged by a conservative opponent who won’t quit and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton locked in a titanic struggle for the Democratic nomination.

Texas is shaping up as a make-or-break state for Clinton, while a loss for Obama could be the start of the kind of comeback for Hillary that her husband Bill Clinton made famous in the 1992 primary season.

Turnout in the Texas primary is expected to smash all records. Early voting already set staggering marks, with Houston’s Harris County showing early voting by Democrats up 550% over 2004.

Clinton has tended to fare best among unionised and Hispanic voter sub-sets, both of which are well represented in the chemical industry.

But Obama has done well in urban areas in general and hence will benefit more from the relative over-representation of those voters under complex party rules. Obama is also expected to continue to erode Clinton’s once-presumed support among African-American voters, who make up a significant part of the voters in Houston’s chemical-intensive neighbours Beaumont and Port Arthur.

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