WASHINGTON - There was no suspense, there was no drama but Texas finally played a bit role in the presidential election Tuesday with a final boost to GOP candidate Mitt Romney, giving him enough delegates for him to secure the nomination.
Romney won 71 percent of the primary vote statewide, according to the Texas secretary of state's office although in Tarrant County, the former Massachusetts governor underperformed that level with 69.8 percent of the GOP vote.
Texas has 152 delegates and Romney, who won his proportional share of them, unofficially now has more than the 1,144 delegates he needs for the GOP nominating convention in Tampa in August.
"I am honored that Americans across the country have given their support to my candidacy and I am humbled to have won enough delegates to become the Republican Party's 2012 presidential nominee," said Romney in a statement. "Our party has come together with the goal of putting the failures of the last three and a half years behind us."
Romney was not even in Texas for the primary but campaigned in Colorado and attended a fundraiser in Las Vegas with billionaire and reality TV host Donald Trump.
But the Republican National Committee effectively confirmed Romney's standing.
"I congratulate Gov. Romney on winning the Texas primary and securing the delegates needed to be our party's official nominee at our convention in Tampa," said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.
The Texas primary results signal the start of the national presidential election - and all the negative cards both parties are prepared to play.
Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said, "Tonight, after six years of trying and millions of dollars spent, and after a year of tepid support against one of the weakest fields in history, Mitt Romney has finally secured enough delegates to become the Republican Party's presidential nominee."
For home state candidate Rep. Ron Paul, who has ceased active campaigning, it was also a fitful day, with a 10.1 percent level of support statewide that did not measure up to his enthusiastic base. In Tarrant County, he won with the same 10.12 percent of the vote.
On the Democratic side, President Barack Obama also coasted to a comfortable 88 percent win, with high minority turn-out for contested seats buffeting him from an uncomfortable showing against marginal players, such as in recent primaries in Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia where he lost 40 percent of the vote. In Tarrant County, Obama won 95 percent of the vote.
The anti-climactic primary on both sides, but especially the Republican side in the very Republican Lone Star State, galled the state's political players who saw Texas' role as king-maker slip away as the March 6 Super Tuesday primary date was pushed back by the weight of redistricting lawsuits.
"I think the delayed process effectively took Texas out of the presidential game," said Austin-based analyst Bill Miller, who advises candidates in both parties. Tuesday's vote gave Texas GOP the final seal, he said, "but what generates excitement is competition."
Texas will "bestow" the nomination, said University of Texas, Austin political scholar Bruce Buchanan "but not decide the nominee, as it wanted to do."
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University of Virginia presidential expert Larry Sabato said, "Well, it's finally over, and how ironic that Texas is putting Mitt Romney over the top since if the state had voted on schedule March 6, Gingrich or Santorum probably would have won the popular vote." Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa. were giving Romney a run for his money as voters in 10 states cast ballots on Super Tuesday.
Curiously, Gingrich and Santorum were still on the Texas ballot Tuesday, as well as others who long since hung up their presidential spurs, including Michele Bachmann and Jon Huntsman. But the name Texans would know best - Texas Gov. Rick Perry - was not.
Perry took advantage of a brief window that re-opened in March when the primary was moved to May 29 to remove his name from the ballot, according to Chris Elam, spokesman for the Texas GOP.
And that, say political observers, was a master stroke after a mistake-prone presidential race. Perry withdrew as a presidential candidate Jan. 19.
"That was a wise thing," said former U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas. "He didn't want to be embarrassed in his home state."
Buchanan said, "I think it was smart of Perry to get off the ballot. People will now have to conjure the memory of his flameout on their own."
Perry played a minimal role in the Texas presidential stakes - he endorsed Gingrich after dropping out and then supported Romney when the former speaker himself dropped out. Perry used the election and "whatever political capital he has left," said Miller, to help get Lt. Gov. Dave Dewhurst the U.S. Senate nomination to succeed retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.
So, if Texas was passed over this primary cycle when it came to influence, what's left for the general election? "Texas is automatically Republican in November by a wide margin," said Sabato.
But there is still the Lone Star State's financial means that's up for grabs.
"Texas has the role of ATM in the presidential campaign," laughed Frost, "on both sides."
)2012 the McClatchy Washington Bureau
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