The retired U.S. Air Force veteran also was among a record-setting number of Smith County voters helping decide the next commander in chief.
“I’m a product of the ’60s …,” he said from First Church of the Nazarene, a Tyler polling location. “We protested for equal rights. We protested for the right to be heard. We protested for fairness and equality. And this is the result of it.”
Worries over the economy, health care and seemingly endless wars overseas seemed to fuel the resolve of East Texans to vote their conscience.
Oh, and there was an alcohol election, in which Tyler area voters swept in beer and wine sales at stores.
Republicans ultimately swept the returns in East Texas with voters voicing overwhelming support for Republican candidate Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan over President Barack Obama and vice president Joe Biden, both Democrats.
In Smith County, Romney-Ryan got 54,973 votes or 71.68 percent, compared to Obama-Biden’s 20,818 votes, or 27.15 percent, according to complete but unofficial returns.
In neighboring Cherokee County, 12,291 voters, or 75 percent, supported Romney compared with 3,935, or 24.01 percent, who voted for Obama.
And in Wood County, 14,317 voters, or 81.56 percent, voted for Romney compared with 3,052, or 17.39 percent, who supported Obama.
The record-breaking early voter turnout in Smith County gave Republicans a strong lead in all races.
For president, early returns in Smith County revealed 39,649 ballots, or 72.60 percent, cast for Romney; 14,480 votes, 26.51 percent, for Obama.
Republican Ted Cruz was the front runner for U.S. Senator, grabbing 52,958 votes, or 70.04 percent, compared to Democrat Paul Sadler, 21,390 votes, or 28.29 percent. In early voting, Cruz had 38,322 early votes, or 70.97 percent; Sadler had 14,970 votes, 27.72 percent.
U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, led Democrat Shirley J. McKellar, 54,611 votes or 72.11 percent compared to her 19,910 votes or 26.29 percent. In early returns, Gohmert had 39,361 votes, or 72.80 percent; Ms. McKellar, 14,009 votes, or 25.91 percent.
Green Party and Libertarian candidates logged less than 1.30 percent of the votes in those races.
In the last national election, when the majority of Americans chose Obama’s quest for change, Smith County stuck to its Republican red roots.
Early voting totals in 2008 broke turnout records, with 10,000 more people flocking to the polls than in the previous election. Ultimately, only 6,065 more voters visited the polls for the 2008 election compared to 2004, casting 79,729 ballots compared to 73,664 four years earlier, records show.
In that election, Republicans John McCain and Sarah Palin received 69.38 percent of the votes compared to Obama-Biden’s 29.81 percent.
In 2004, then President George W. Bush received more support from Smith County than he did in his first race for commander-in-chief, and more than his opponent Sen. John Kerry, records show.
Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney grabbed more than 73 percent of the Smith County vote while Kerry and vice president candidate John Edwards received 27 percent.
It was a record breaking year for early voters as well with 31,928, or 74.93 percent, voting for Bush and 10,568, or 24.8 percent, voting for Kerry, records show.
In 2000, Bush got 71.46 percent of the votes, while former Vice President Al Gore received 27.17 percent of the vote; in 1996, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole received 60 percent and Bill Clinton, a Democrat, received 34.1 percent.
On Tuesday, supporters of both parties seemed to want change.
Tyler Minister James Wilson, 49, believes both presidential candidates would work to increase jobs, but his focus was on issues such as Medicare and education.
Tyler landscaper Higino Bocanegra, 47, originally from Mexico, voted Tuesday in his first U.S. election since becoming a citizen last year.
He said he wasn’t impressed by either presidential candidate but believes it is important nonetheless to vote.
Tyler kettle operator Brant Cooper, 41, another last-minute voter, seemed more excited about the voting process.
“A lot of people are pushing for Barack Obama to get a second chance,” he said from T.J. Austin Elementary School. “Nobody is excited about where we are, but I believe people are looking for what he can do later on.”
Staff Writers Adam Russell and Casey Murphy contributed to this report.