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,Cassaiya Oligario, waits as her mother Cassandra and older sister Eleahna vote in the U.S. presidential election at a displaced polling center in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, New York November 6, 2012. (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)
,Cassaiya Oligario, waits as her mother Cassandra and older sister Eleahna vote in the U.S. presidential election at a displaced polling center in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, New York November 6, 2012. (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

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Strong turnout showcases rising Hispanic influence Add to ...

Barack Obama clung to hard-won counties he took from Republicans four years ago, propelling him to victory.

And he may owe those bellwether wins and hairs-breadth races in part to the record-setting Hispanic voter turnout.

There were some surprises when it came to those who showed up at crowded polling stations Tuesday: Many expected young voters, galvanized four years ago, to miss this vote. And while mobilized black populations were key in Mr. Obama’s 2008 victory, they were less so this time around.

Voters in closely fought states waited for hours in line to cast ballots – in some Miami stations, well past when Mr. Obama was declared the victor. In Pennsylvania, the Associated Press reported, some voters were asked for unnecessary photo identification.

For years, civic groups, partisan and non-partisan organizations alike have endeavoured to mobilize America’s growing Hispanic population. Latino voters appeared to be out in force Tuesday. NALEO, a group dedicated to promoting Hispanics’ political participation, projected their vote would increase 26 per cent from 2008, to 12.2 million.

Their presence is obvious in states such as New Mexico,which went Democrat this year and where Hispanics make up 46 per cent of the population. NALEO projected Hispanics would make up a third of registered voters there. In Arizona, where Latinos are 30 per cent of the population, they were expected to make up about 16 per cent of voters, up from 11 per cent in 2008.

And in Florida, where the Hispanic turnout was projected to increase by almost 40 per cent to 1.67 million, Mr. Obama held Hillsborough, the diverse county that includes Tampa and which for the past 42 years has gone to the candidate who won Florida.

“The community has come out in droves,” said Max Sevillia, director of policy and legal affairs for for NALEO. “In places like Florida, where the Latino vote is significant and the race is very close … the Latino vote is going to decide.”

Florida, New Mexico, Nevada (Democrat, as of Tuesday night) and Arizona (Republican) are only the most obvious states. While Hispanic populations are comparatively small in Virginia and tiny in Ohio, those races were so close that even a small Latino bloc could make a big difference. In closely fought Colorado, where Hispanics make up about a fifth of the population, Mr. Sevillia said he was expecting about 225,000 to cast ballots.

Those voters may have helped Mr. Obama to hang onto Virginia’s Loudon County, which he won in 2008, after George W. Bush took it in 2004. The metropolitan area has seen huge growth in visible minority populations.

Mr. Romney was able to carry such Republican strongholds in Virginia as Augusta and Rockingham counties – both empty-nest communities with large evangelical populations.

Four years ago, North Carolina’s black population helped turn the red state blue. This year, no such luck: Mr. Romney took the state with 51 per cent of the vote.

In Ohio, Mr. Obama kept Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, and Hamilton County, with Cincinnati.

He also had a lead in bellwether Ohio counties Wood and Ottawa. The party that won these counties has won the state in every election since 1992.

Wood County, an agriculture and automotive area south of Toledo, has maintained an unemployment rate below the national average. It’s also home to Bowling Green State University, whose student population makes up a key voting bloc. Many prognosticators predicted a cratering youth vote, disillusioned by four years of recession and poor job prospects, could hurt Mr. Obama’s chances of re-election. Initial turnout numbers indicated the youth turnout wasn’t as dismal as feared.

Florida’s voting was half over before dawn on election day: About 4.5 million of a projected 9 million voters cast their ballots beforehand.

As expected, the numbers were close and voting conditions contested in court. Many early voters said they were left waiting for hours to cast a ballot in person, which Governor Rick Scott cut to eight days from 14.

Florida’s in-person early votes tend to be overwhelmingly Democrat and disproportionately black; its absentee votes, on the other hand, skew white and Republican.

Mr. Obama also had early leads in Colorado’s Jefferson and Arapahoe counties – suburban areas near Denver that have proven good indicators for the political direction in which the state is leaning.

Bellwether states proved fallible, however: In North Carolina, Mr. Obama kept key counties Wake and Forsyth, which up until recently were Republican strongholds. But he still lost the state to Mr. Romney. And Ohio’s Lake County, seen to be a good predictor of Ohio’s leanings, went to Mr. Romney.

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