A new analysis of March polling data suggests that 's cross-party support surpasses that of either or .
According to data provided by the Gallup Organization at Politico's request, in a hypothetical contest between McCain and Obama, McCain wins 17 percent of Democrats and those leaning Democratic, while Obama wins 10 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaners.
In a potential contest with Clinton, McCain wins 14 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaners while Clinton wins 8 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaners.
By way of comparison, exit polls in 2004 reported that George W. Bush won 11 percent of Democrats and John F. Kerry won 6 percent of Republicans.
The new analysis, calculated from a compilation of the Gallup Organization's daily polls between March 7 and 22, seems to indicate that there are more "McCain Democrats" than the much-ballyhooed "Obama Republicans" - or "Obamacans," as they are sometimes referred to.
The polls were aggregated at Politico's request as part of an effort to assess the cross-party appeal of each candidate. The compilation created a larger sample size, allowing pollsters to more accurately decipher voting patterns by party affiliation.
McCain's potential to win more crossover votes than either of the Democrats, a finding that also surfaces in surveys conducted by Fox News/Opinion Dynamics and in private GOP polls, could upend the political calculus for the November general election.
Equally important, Gallup finds that McCain wins independents against either Democrat - 48 to 23 percent against Clinton, and 40 to 31 percent against Obama.
In 2004, exit polls showed independents cast 26 percent of the vote, splitting their support evenly between Bush and Kerry.
Both the Republican National Committee and the McCain campaign are depending upon McCain's potential appeal to Democrats and independents to compensate for the depleted Republican ranks.
"Democrats currently have a lead in voter identification; it's axiomatic that you have to look beyond your party's base to get to 50 percent," said Frank Donatelli, the deputy chairman of the RNC.
Late February polling by the RNC, passed along to top officials in the McCain campaign, also found that more Democrats said they would vote for McCain than Republicans said they would vote for Obama, according to an RNC operative and a senior adviser to the McCain campaign.
"There will be something in the range of a quarter of Democrats available or accessible to him when the this Democratic contest is over but that doesn't mean we won't have to work for them," said a senior McCain adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
That estimate may prove optimistic, though not wildly.
A Fox News poll released last week also found that McCain wins 18 percent of Democrats while Obama wins 11 percent of Republicans. McCain maintains his advantage among independents in the Fox poll as well.
Clinton, according to the Gallup findings, hemorrhages slightly less Democrats than Obama. But Obama more than compensates for Clinton's strength among Democrats with his greater capacity to narrow McCain's advantage among independents. Private polling conducted by Republican strategist Tony Fabrizio reflects the same trend.
"There's going to be McCain Democrats," Fabrizio said, adding that it was only a question of whether they will be a small sliver of the political left or a movement toward McCain.
If Obama is the Democratic nominee, the McCain adviser said the campaign will target male and female blue collar white Democrats, a group viewed by Republicans as Obama's soft spot.
"They already sens that he may be too liberal," the adviser added. "They tend to also agree with McCain on the war and on social issues and we'll have to satisfy them that McCain agrees with them on the economy."
McCain's appeal to Democrats has some Republican strategists envisioning a Ronald Reagan-like road map for the 2008 race. Today, most of the so-called Reagan Democrats have become independents.
"One similarity between 1980 and 2008 is you have a very tough Democratic primary," said the RNC's Donatelli, who served as the political director in the Reagan White House. "After that ended, there were a lot of bruised feelings and Democrats who would not vote for the winner."
Gallup published results Wednesday that showed evidence supporting a similar scenario for 2008. Twenty-eight percent of Clinton's supporters say they would vote for McCain if Obama is the Democratic nominee. The data, aggregating the same period of March polling, also showed 19 percent of Obama's supporters pledging to back McCain if Clinton wins the nomination.
"The bulk of the Democrats you would try to appeal to are not Harvard-educated lawyers who are feminists. They're working class Democrats that you have more of a shot at getting. And the core of that appeal is social conservatism, right to life, Second Amendment, and obviously national security," Donatelli said.
Comparing Reagan to McCain, Donatelli said "both of them were and are viewed as mavericks, and a lot of that is character, and a lot of that is the persona of the individual. And it's issue based too, because you've challenged the orthodoxy on occasion."
Democrats say they must undercut McCain's maverick image in order to shore up their flank.
"People tend to confuse maverick with moderate," said Steve Rosenthal, a Democratic leader in mobilizing voters. Rosenthal said Democrats must position McCain as a conservative and introduce them to the "real John McCain" on issues ranging from abortion to the war in Iraq to the environment.
"If Republicans are successful in defining John McCain as a moderate who can work across party lines and is a straight talker, then we will be in a real battle to win Democrats in some of these swing states," he continued.
"Against McCain," Rosenthal said, "it's clear this is going to be an extremely close race. Anybody who thought that Democrats were going to waltz to the White House in 2008 is crazy."
By David Paul Kuhn