Earlier this month The Washington Post published an op-ed by “lifelong Republican” Susan Eisenhower explaining why she supports Barack Obama (“We have been living in a zero-sum political environment where all heads have been lowered to avert being lopped off by angry, noisy extremists … he is a man who can salve our national wounds and both inspire and pursue genuine bipartisan cooperation.”). The very next day the paper published another op-ed by Peter Wehner, who served the current Bush administration explaining why, all things being equal – and when it comes to their policy proposals, all things are very nearly equal – Obama doesn’t rub Republicans the wrong way (“unlike Clinton and especially John Edwards, Obama has a message that, at its core, is about unity and hope rather than division and resentment.”) 

Syndicated columnist Selena Zito wonders whether history is about to repeat itself in 2008: “If one great communicator – the eloquent Ronald Reagan – could build a coalition of disaffected Democrats that swung both of his presidential elections his way, can an almost-great communicator – the fiery Barack Obama – build a coalition of disaffected Republicans to swing the Democrat primary election his way?”

The Nation’s Jon Wiener thinks the possibility exists:

Reagan Democrats played a key role in electing a new present in 1980; now Obama Republicans seem to be emerging as a significant political force – at least in the primaries. …

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. …

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?'”

Um, ‘cause they’re RINOs. So how many other Republicans will cross party lines to support Obama? Is this a fluke or a phenomenon? 

Unlike those cynical Republicans “for Hillary,” Republicans for Obama really do seem to be for Obama. The Los Angeles Times focuses on “GOP renegades” in Delaware, OH, who are supporting the IL senator in the March 4th primary because they’re sick and tired of the rabid partisanship and resulting gridlock in Washington, D.C.:  

A map of Delaware County splays across a tabletop. Another is laden with cookies, pretzels and other snacks. Volunteers sit elbow-to-elbow, pecking at cell phones and pitching the Illinois Democrat in advance of Ohio’s March 4 primary. The scene is a typical campaign boiler room.

Except that four of the 13 dialing away are lifelong Republicans …

GOP renegades are part of a striking phenomenon this campaign season: They are “Obamacans,” as the senator calls them, and they are surfacing in surprising numbers.  …

Republicans made up 6% of those who voted in Missouri’s Democratic primary, 7% in Virginia and 9% in Wisconsin. (Most states make it harder to vote in the other party’s contest.) The overwhelming majority cast their ballots for Sen. Obama, according to exit polls. …

Throughout his campaign, Obama has been appealing to Republicans even as he battles Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York for the Democratic nomination. Obama’s first TV ad in Iowa featured a GOP lawmaker from Illinois touting Obama’s ability to work with Republicans. …

Many are skeptical that Republicans will stick with Obama until November. They point out that many of his proposals – including a timetable for ending the war in Iraq, repealing Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy, expanding the government’s role in healthcare and supporting gay rights and gun control – cut too much against GOP orthodoxy.

Obama’s goal is to redraw the electoral map with the help of Republican voters – and he has racked up a string of victories by getting appreciable numbers of Republicans and independents to vote for him. In WI, for instance, 37 percent of the voters in the Democratic primary were either independents or Republicans, according to the exit polls. Obama beat Hillary with a 44 point margin among independents, and 31 percentage points among Republicans. 

But what happens when Obama is contesting these states against John McCain instead of Hillary?

The states Obama won during the primary season with the help of crossover voters may not swing his way in the general election, according to The WaPo:

[W]hile Obama has shown an ability to reshape voting patterns, his record in the primaries suggests that he still has a ways to go in making significant inroads in Republican states. 

The red states where he has won have tended to be in the Deep South, where victories were based on overwhelming support from African Americans, or in mostly white states in the Midwest and West, where he relied on a core of ardent backers to carry him in caucuses, which favor candidates with enthusiastic supporters.  … 

The campaign points to Virginia as proof that Obama can win white voters in red states.  …

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D), one of several prominent red-state leaders to endorse Obama, said she is sure that he would be competitive in a state that George W. Bush carried by 25 points in 2004. “It would be in play for the first time in a very long time,” she said. …

Christian Morgan, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, ridiculed the possibility … “It’s pretty laughable that someone with the extremely liberal positions of Barack Obama could actually carry Kansas,” he said. “Any interest Barack Obama has from Republicans in Kansas is of a circus nature – they’re curious what the hubbub is all about.” 

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, analyst Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report was “skeptical” Obama would be competitive in Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee: “White voters in Mississippi don’t vote Democratic. They just don’t.” 

The WaPo’s Chris Cillizza and Shailagh Murray crunch the numbers to see how well Obama’s contention that he can “drastically expand the general election playing field beyond the 19 states (plus the District) that Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) won in 2004” holds up: 

Of the 24 states Obama has won … Bush won 55 percent or less of the vote in four of those states (Colorado, Iowa, Missouri and Virginia), while he took better than 60 percent of the vote in seven (Alabama, Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and Utah). 

Of the 14 red states Obama has won in this nominating contest, half of them haven’t voted for a Democrat for president … in more than 40 years. Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 campaign was the last Democrat who won Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Utah and Virginia. Meanwhile, five states have backed a Democratic presidential candidate sometime in the past 20 years: Colorado (1992), Georgia (1992), Missouri (1996), Louisiana (1996) and Iowa (2000). 

Put all of that data together, and they seem to somewhat contradict Obama’s argument. It’s obvious that a handful of red states – Colorado, Iowa, Missouri, Virginia — are almost certain to be competitive  … The demographics in those states have shifted toward Democrats of late, and the party made gains in each in 2006. 

What about the near lock Obama has amongst black voters in the South? They already turned out in high numbers during the primaries, so he’s not likely to get huge numbers of black voters in the general election who didn’t support him in the primaries and caucuses. 

All of this data suggest that the red state crossover vote in 2008 is more likely to go to McCain than to Obama. As in the past, the real question is: Which way will the independents swing?  

Editorial Note: As Obama’s message of hope and change is resonating across party lines, Hillary’s sarcastic spoof (“I could just stand up here and say ’Let’s just get everybody together, let’s get unified.’ The sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect”) is not mocking Obama as much as the voters who agree with him. She’s not likely to win their hearts and minds by ridiculing them. 

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog.

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