Reagan Democrats played a key role in electing a new present in 1980; now Republicans seem to be emerging as a significant political force - at least in the primaries.
In the Wisconsin primary, almost nine per cent of Obama's vote came from Republicans, according to exit polls. Other states that permitted Republicans to vote in the Democratic primary include Virginia, where almost seven per cent of Obama's support came from Republicans - and the Democrats dream of carrying Republican Virginia in the fall. In Missouri, almost six per cent of Obama's support came from Republicans. Missouri is a key swing state that has voted for the winner in every presidential election since 1904 except one.
The next state where Republicans are permitted to vote in the Democratic primary is Texas.
The Republicans-for-Obama phenomenon is a response in part to the Illinois senator's speech about transcending partisanship - a speech which is not just a naive expression of sentiment, but rather a calculated political tactic aimed at winning independents and Republicans. Many middle-of-the-road Republicans voted for Bush because he claimed to be a "compassionate conservative"; many of them are appalled by the war and concerned about the environment; some of them support gay rights and access to abortion.
A few big-name Republicans have led the move to Obama, including Rhode Island's former senator Lincoln Chafee, a well-known as a moderate; he was defeated in 2004, and Obama campaigned for his opponent. Other Republicans for Obama include Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of the president, and Tom Bernstein, a longtime Bush fund-raiser - he was co-owner of the Texas Rangers with Bush.
"Republicans for Obama" has a website and a string of favorable press clips, including a feature story on Monday on page one of the LA Times. At one Obama phone bank in Ohio, the Times reported, four of the 13 volunteers were lifelong Republicans. One of them, Josh Pedaline, 28, who voted for Bush twice, said "I'm a conservative, but I have gay friends. . . I don't feel like Obama is condemning me for being a Republican."
The Austin American-Statesman ran a story on Monday headlined "Obama campaign attracting disenchanted Republicans; 'Obamacans' could be out in force for the Texas open primary on March 4." The Texas paper quoted Jack Holt, a former marine and lifelong Republican who supported President Bush andthe past, saying "The Republican Party has become so ugly and so arrogant, I don't want to have any part of it."
However as of Monday the Texas Republicans for Obama online petition had a total of 21 signatures. The Ohio petition had eight.
Those pathetic numbers raise the question: how successful can Obama be at winning Republican votes - first in Texas and Ohio, and then - assuming he wins the nomination - nation-wide in November? Experts caution that partisanship remains a significant force even in 2008, and that registered Republicans are extremely likely to vote for their party in November, despite their disgust with Bush and Cheney.
Of course even small numbers can be significant, as we learned in Florida in 2000. Obama is far more likely to win Republican votes in November than. John Zogby, the pollster, told the Austin Statesman, "There really is such a thing as an Obama Republican. This group tends to be politically moderate, tired of bickering and even more tired of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. It is part of the unique appeal that Obama has among centrist voters, independent thinkers and those concerned with America's image overseas."
Obama himself often talks about his Republican supporters in campaign rallies. "They whisper to me. They say, 'Barack, I'm a Republican, but I support you.' And I say, 'Thank you. Why are we whispering?'"
By Jon Wiener
Reprinted with permission from The Nation