Revisiting Republicans in the Dem primary

And back we go to the question of Republicans voting in the Democratic primary.

According to polling, as well as anecdotal evidence, an unusually large number of Republicans and independents may cast their votes in the Democratic contest next week, a prospect that could tip the outcome of what polls show is now a tight race. Such defections could also affect the many local and state legislative primaries around the state.

I think it’s quite clear that a large number of these folks have already cast those ballots, as evidenced by the off-the-charts turnout so far.

An American Research Group poll released Monday showed Obama leading Clinton, 71 percent to 25 percent, among Texas independents and Republicans who are likely to vote in the Democratic primary.

There is scattered evidence across the state that some Republicans may be voting Democratic, at least for a day. In one precinct in the suburban Houston neighborhood of Kingwood, where 82 percent of voters cast ballots for President Bush in 2004, Democrats were outvoting Republicans 4-to-1 last week in early voting.

Daron Shaw, a political science professor at University of Texas, said surveys he conducted in two state legislative districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area revealed that almost a quarter of voters with a history of voting in GOP primaries planned on participating in the Democratic primary.

Shaw, who conducts exit polls for Fox News, said that while some Republicans are voting in the Democratic primary largely for strategic reasons, he said others may be tired of GOP control of government and are drawn to a fresh face and ideas.

Another factor contributing to the crossover voting is a lackluster GOP presidential contest. Front-runner John McCain is expected to win the nomination, no matter how well rivals Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul do in the Lone Star State.

With the Arizona senator in command of the GOP race, some Republicans are motivated to cast a protest vote against Clinton.

I think the key here is to draw a distinction between those who are casting a vote in the Democratic primary because they want to vote for Obama or against Hillary or whatever, and those who are engaing in some kind of nefarious plot to tilt the primary results one way or another. I think that latter group is small to the point of insignificance, and there’s nothing in this article that leads me to believe otherwise. I also think it’s important to distinguish between those who have generally voted Republican in November but who have mostly not participated in primaries, and those who have a Republican primary history, as I believe the former are more likely to stick with the Democrats, at least at the top of the ticket, in the fall. I’m not saying the GOP primary folks are unreachable, just that I think the Republican-leaning independents are more likely to be comfortable with the idea of voting Democratic and will be more open to doing more of it.

Michael Jones, a 39-year-old self-described conservative Republican who is involved in marketing, said he will cast his vote for Obama in the primary “so Hillary gets out.”

But he isn’t enamored of Obama, a first-term senator whose experience has come under fire from both Clinton and McCain.

“I just wish he would get some substance,” Jones said. Yet Jones said he is undecided about the general election because he doesn’t like McCain, whom he described as “just another Washington senator.”


Debi McLoughlin, a 52-year-old Department of Public Safety worker who was waiting while her daughter had her hair cut, said she usually supports Republicans. But she is likely to declare herself a Democrat so she can choose Obama.

“A vote for Obama is a vote against Hillary,” said McLoughlin. She may also vote for Obama again in the general election because she thinks the 71-year-old McCain is too old.

Across the street having lunch at Maxine’s restaurant, Dot Berkner, a Republican, said she will check the polls right before the primary, and if Clinton is ahead, she will vote in the Democratic primary.

“I don’t want her in the final choice,” said Berkner, who added she will vote for McCain in the general election.

So the anecdotal scorecard is one Republican who might vote for Obama in November, one Republican-leaning independent who is also leaning (perhaps a bit more so than the first guy) to Obama for the general, and one Republican who will only vote in the Dem primary if she thinks she needs to help deny the nomination to Hillary Clinton. I’ll tell you what, I’m happy with the concept of one in three nominal Republicans thinking about a vote for Obama in November. That would be more than enough to put the state in play, and make downballot races like Rick Noriega’s that much more winnable.

The point I’m trying to make here is simply this: Every nominal Republican who casts a non-strategic vote in the Democratic primary is someone who will discover that doing so will not give them a fatal case of the cooties. Some number of these people will then realize that it’s okay to vote for one or more Democrats in the general election. How big that population is, and how far down the ballot they’ll be willing to go, are the $64,000 questions for this year. I hope we see some polling data to address that, but regardless I hope the lesson that the powers that be in the state Democratic Party take away is that the old rules are no longer valid. The assumption that Democrats cannot win at the state level should be firmly discarded, and the opportunity that is being presented here should be zealously pursued. Anyone still operating with a 2006 mindset should be ignored.

Some Republicans doubt that most longtime party loyalists will actually cross over, in part because they would forfeit the right to participate in some competitive local primary contests, including the races for Harris County district attorney and the Houston suburban congressional seat formerly held by Tom DeLay.

“I think partisan voting is a lot like blood type, impossible to change,” said Hans Klinger, spokesman for the Texas Republican Party.

While I’ve expressed agreement with the basis of this sentiment multiple times, it should be noted that people do change. If they didn’t, we’d still be a Democratic state. My argument is that people who truly see themselves as Republicans will prefer to vote in their own primary and have a say in those races than cross over to mess with the Democrats, so I see no reason to be concerned with that sort of gamesmanship. But the people who are actually crossing over, if they’re like the people quoted in this story, are those who may not be seeing themselves as Republicans, or at least dyed-in-the-wool Republicans any more. For people like that, partisan voting is more like a wardrobe than a blood type, and as such it is entirely changeable. Those people ought to concern Hans Klinger. They’ve certainly got Royal Masset’s attention:

If there is a major change in Texas politics in 2008 it will be caused by the Democrats. Even I have been chagrined to learn that my 13-year-old son Ernesto favors Barack Obama. The world is changing.

May there be many more like you, Ernesto.

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One Response to Revisiting Republicans in the Dem primary

  1. PDiddie says:

    Even if R’s crossing over to vote in the D primary is happening to any significant degree — which, like you, I believe is questionable at best — the simple fact is that precinct convention caucus-goers (the real Democrats) serve as a counter-weight to the theory of crossover manipulation.

    Because I don’t think the turncoat-for-a-day Republicans are going to raise themselves up from the front of the teevee on Election Night and go down and caucus with a bunch of Democrats. That’s just far too unappealing a prospect for them to stomach.

    So I finally found something I like about our prima-caucus.

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