By JoNel Aleccia Health writer
updated 11/5/2008 4:21:33 PM ET 2008-11-05T21:21:33

Rosalee Montoya-Read had hoped fervently that Hispanic women would help propel Barack Obama to a decisive presidential victory. When it actually happened on Tuesday, all she could do was cry.

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“I couldn’t think because, actually, I burst out into tears,” said Montoya-Read, 57, a past-president of the Hispanic Women’s Council in Albuquerque, N.M.

Montoya-Read, a former university development director, was among millions of Americans moved at the strength of support Obama received from voters.

Nationally, two-thirds of Hispanic and Latino voters favored Obama over Sen. John McCain, a far more significant margin than the 58 percent who voted for Democrat John Kerry in 2004. But the margin was even higher among female Hispanic voters, particularly in some key states, according to exit polls.

In Colorado, 78 percent of Hispanic women supported Obama, compared to 73 percent of Hispanic men. In New Mexico, the gap was even greater, with 72 percent of Hispanic women favoring Obama, compared to 65 percent of Hispanic men. And in Texas, where voters overall chose McCain, 71 percent of Hispanic women supported Obama, compared to 55 percent of men, a gender gap of 16 points.

That’s likely because Obama’s emphasis on issues such as health care and education resonated particularly strongly with Hispanic women, and because the Illinois senator invested massive resources into connecting emotionally with the community, said Zuraya Tapia, an organizer who helped mobilize Hispanic voters in Virginia. Frequent campaign visits to key states such as Nevada and New Mexico and record-breaking advertising on Spanish language television stations were significant, she said.

“I think it’s largely that women in the Latina households feel the responsibility for the family,” said Tapia. “It’s a matter of having the Hispanic community feel like they know you.”

Maria Elena Alvarez, 54, publisher of a monthly newspaper for older readers in Albuquerque, said she believes she and other Hispanic women took a broader, more inclusive view of the nation.

"Women are much more visionary and they're much more about compromise," she said.

Putting the Clinton myth to bed
Hispanics traditionally tend to vote Democratic, but there was some question about women’s allegiance to the party — if only among pundits — after Clinton’s loss, said Christine Sierra, a professor of political science who studies Latino voters at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

“What we’re putting to bed is the Hillary Clinton thesis, and the idea that Latinos were not going to vote for a black man,” Sierra said.

“For me, it would have been wonderful to have a woman of Hillary Clinton’s status,” said Montoya-Read, who now writes children’s books and works on poetry. “But Barack Obama had those qualities we look to in a leader.”

Alvarez, by contrast, said she never supported Hillary Clinton because she appeared to forgive the sexual scandal created by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Obama’s promises to revive the failing financial markets resonated with Hispanic women, Sierra said.

“It’s women of color who came from working class status who are supportive,” she said. “They need an activist government to help them out.”

Middle-class women like Montoya-Read are hoping the new administration will follow up on promises to focus on issues such as health care to help reverse disparities, such as obesity and diabetes, that are more prevalent among Hispanics.

Other women will look to Obama for more immediate help, Sierra said.

“It’s the economy,” she said. “Women of color are desperate for a way out of a very tough situation. I think they voted for hope.”

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