Voting across party lines
Iowa Presidential Politics.com
The road to the White House begins with building support among
political activists for the caucuses and primaries, but some presidential
candidates are already trying to win the backing of voters outside
their parties for the general election.
As the margin between those who identify themselves as Republicans
and Democrats closes, candidates such as Wesley Clark, Howard Dean
and George W. Bush are trying to appeal to independents and moderates
who vote across party lines, recognizing their increasingly crucial
role in the voting process.
“When this happens on a large scale, it can change the dynamics
of the political system,” said Arthur Sanders, an associate
professor of politics and international relations at Drake University. “I
don’t think at this point there’s much evidence of
a monumental election, but it could make a difference in the elections.”
Karen Brunso is a registered Republican, but in January, she will
change her registration to support a Democrat in the Iowa caucuses.
After hearing Clark speak at the University
of Iowa in September, the college freshman joined the Students
for Clark organization on campus, serving as vice president and
others to caucus for the Arkansas native.
“Clark always talks about how we don’t need to be partisan,
but we need to open up the door of communication,” she said. “It’s
different, and it’s something I wish to see tried and actually
take a chance at, something to try for a change.”
Brunso said her switch to a Democratic registration will be temporary
but was prompted by disappointment in President Bush’s performance
with the economy, international relations and the war in Iraq.
“There are a lot of Republicans like me who are sick and
tired of their president and want to change, and Clark has offered
an option to get that change that they want,” she said.
Brunso said she was impressed with Clark’s military experience
as a former four-star general and his educational background as
a Rhodes Scholar and Oxford graduate with a master’s degree
in philosophy, politics and economics.
Although Brunso has followed the other Democrats’ campaigns
closely, the self-proclaimed liberal Republican said her vote would
go to a Democrat only
if Clark were the party’s nominee.
“They’re all too partisan, and I just haven’t found one that’s
spoken to me quite like Clark has. So I’ll probably just vote for Bush
if worse comes to worse, which I don’t think will happen,” she said. “I
think the nation will see who Clark is and nominate him as a contender for the
president, and then he’ll win.”
Brunso may be a Republican voting Democrat this election, but Kristin Scuderi,
communications director for the Republican Party of Iowa, said there are also
plenty of Democrats who are voting Republican in 2004.
“You tend to see people, especially in the Midwest and in Iowa, turned
negative campaigns and mudslinging. A lot of Democrats are voting Republican,
because the Democrats’ messages are negative and promoting pessimism, especially
toward President Bush,” she said. “Voters will look elsewhere, and
we hope to get some Democrats’ votes.”
Scuderi said that a key example of a Democrat voting Republican in the next election
is Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, a prominent conservative Democrat, who announced
in October that he would be willing to endorse and campaign for Bush in 2004
if asked. Though it is unlikely Miller will change his party affiliation as a
lifelong Democrat, Scuderi said it will be the first time he has ever voted for
“Democrats are voting for President Bush, mainly because of the war,” Scuderi
said. “It feels like a time in our history where we need a strong leader,
and it doesn’t feel like any of the Democrats are able to do it.”
Professor Sanders said that although candidates want their support base to be
as broad as possible in the general election, its helpfulness in the primaries
and caucuses will depend on where the candidate positions himself or herself.
Clark, who has voted for former Republican presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald
places on their Web site for their GOP supporters. Likewise, President
Bush has a Democrats for Bush organization to build bipartisan support.
“It’s not always a helpful tactic. Like for [Dick] Gephardt, who
is a dominant
hardcore traditional Democrat, to win, he must mobilize those constituents,” Sanders
said. “Dean and Clark are running as outsiders, so it would make more sense
for them to have a different appeal.”
Sanders said that occasionally these shifts in party support have enormous effects
on the political system, as happened in 1896, when many switched over to the
Republican Party, and 1932, when many became Democrats. More recently, Democrat
was able to appeal to Republicans in the northeastern United States, and Republican
Ronald Reagan attracted many working-class union members who were conservative
on social issues, known as the “Reagan Democrats.”
Robert Lowry, an associate professor of political science at Iowa State, said
changing party registration or voting against one’s party affiliation is
less likely to happen in the upcoming election.
“Both Democrats and Republicans are more ideologically split than they’ve
been in the past. They are trying to appeal to the base, rather than the swing
voters,” he said.
Lowry said it is more likely for Democrats to switch party identities than for
Republicans because though more voters have been registered as Democrats historically,
Republicans have been winning more elections.
Sanders said the party outside the White House has the disadvantage of having
more internal struggles, which may take away votes.
“Whatever party is in control of the presidency is less likely to have
internal problems, because there is a centralizing clear leader of the party.
differences are papered over, and it becomes the party’s position wherever
the president is,” he said. “The out party is fighting over who will
become the dominant wing.”
Shelbi Thomas at [email protected]
story was published in the Sac (City, IA) Sun on December 9,