In deep-red, rural states with mostly white voters, a fear of being left behind

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- By now, voters in Wyoming are over the initial shock. The ranchers, businessmen and farmers across this deep-red state who knew, just knew that Americans would never re-elect a liberal tax-and-spend president have grudgingly accepted the reality that voters did just that.

But since the election, a blanket of baffled worry has descended on conservatives in this state like early snow across the plains, deepening a sense that traditional, rural and overwhelmingly white states in the center of the country are losing touch with an increasingly diverse and urban American electorate.

"It's a fundamental shift," said Khale Lenhart, 27, a Wyoming lawyer. "It's a mind-set change -- that government is here to take care of me."

The share of white voters -- and white men, specifically -- shrank in this election as turnout grew among blacks, Hispanics and Asian-Americans, whose support for President Barack Obama more than compensated for his losses among whites, exit polls showed. An analysis by the Pew Research Center found that minority voters had made up 28 percent of the electorate, up from 26 percent in 2008, a proportion expected to grow.

"Welcome to the next America," said Paul Taylor, executive vice president at Pew. "Whatever that vote looked like this year, four years from now it'll be more so, and eight years from now it'll be even more so."

None of this ensures election wins for Democrats. The tide of minority voters that helped elect Mr. Obama in 2008 ebbed just two years later in a welter of populist anger over budget deficits, job losses and Mr. Obama's agenda, allowing Republicans to retake the House and make gains in the Senate in the midterm elections.

And there is no guarantee that the next Democratic presidential candidate will match Mr. Obama's huge margins or turnout with minority voters.

Still, if diversity is the future of American politics, conservatives in places like Wyoming, the least populous state, where 86 percent of residents are white, fear they may be sliding into the past.

Republican explanations for Mitt Romney's loss -- that Democrats turned out the urban vote, that the United States is no longer its "traditional" self, or that Mr. Obama had showered "gifts" on women, minorities and young voters -- resonated in some conservative political circles in this state's capital.

"It spooks me," said James Yates, 46, a self-made businessman who owns 15 restaurants and employs about 1,000 people. "The young vote and certainly the minority vote went toward the perspective of 'What can I get?' Where the government runs everything, it's completely not sustainable. They don't see that."

People said their worries about the next four years had little to do with Mr. Obama's race, or even Democratic policies on abortion, same-sex marriage and birth control.

Wyoming's conservatism has some strong libertarian hues. What worries this state's conservatives is that an increasingly diverse and Democratic polity will embrace health care mandates, higher domestic spending and a bigger government role in people's economic lives.

Nobody ever expected Wyoming to support Mr. Obama; Lyndon Johnson was the last Democrat to win its three electoral votes, in 1964. In a year when voters nationally sent more Democrats to Congress, supported same-sex marriage measures and legalized marijuana in two states, voters in Wyoming increased the already large Republican majority in the state House, maintained it in the state Senate and expressed their opposition to the president's health care law.

Mr. Romney won his second-largest victory in Wyoming, beating Mr. Obama by 69 percent to 28 percent.

Only Utah, with its large Mormon population, favored Mr. Romney by a wider margin.

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