McCain Sets Sights on the Democrats Who Voted for Clinton
Friday, June 6, 2008; Page A04
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., June 5 -- Republican Sen. John McCain envisions a November victory built in part around attracting a large number of the millions of voters who turned away from Sen. Barack Obama's promise of change during the historic Democratic primary campaign.
Buoyed by polls showing a quarter or more of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's supporters planning to back McCain, his advisers have already started wooing the white working-class voters and women who made up the bedrock of her coalition. They plan to echo and expand the former first lady's critiques of Obama: that he is out of touch with Middle America and too unseasoned to be president.
"There's a lot of Senator Clinton supporters who would support me because of their belief that Senator Obama does not have the experience or the knowledge or the judgment to address this nation's national security challenges," McCain told reporters Wednesday.
Nonetheless, to succeed, McCain will have to upend firm partisan voting patterns that have held for the past four presidential elections.
In those contests, only about 1 in 10 Democrats cast a ballot for the GOP candidate, according to network exit polls. In the 2006 midterm election, 93 percent of Democrats voted Democratic in their House districts. That party loyalty -- matched by Republicans' fidelity to their party's candidates -- came despite voters' occasional protestations that a nomination defeat would send them scampering.
On the issues, it is unclear how McCain would appeal to Clinton's female or working-class voters. McCain's record is not much like Clinton's, as the Republican repeatedly pointed out during his primary battles. He opposes government-run health care, supports continuing the war in Iraq, wants to extend President Bush's tax cuts and is a committed foe of abortion rights.
His position on the war, in particular, puts him at odds with Clinton on what is a top issue for many Democrats. For months, McCain mocked Clinton's desire to withdraw troops from Iraq.
Obama advisers think the expressions of support for McCain among Clinton voters is a general byproduct of a passionate and sometimes heated primary process that will quickly fade. "We're confident that when voters from all walks of life have a choice between a candidate who last year voted with George Bush 95 percent . . . they will choose change and elect Barack Obama president," said Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan.
McCain strategists predict their candidate will do a better job of siphoning away Democratic votes because of two factors: what they say is Obama's inability to connect to some key parts of the Democratic coalition, and McCain's reputation as a maverick.
Republicans plan to describe Obama as an elitist from the Hyde Park section of Chicago, where liberal professors mingle in an academic world that is alien to most working-class voters. They plan to make sure Clinton's voters do not forget about Obama's comments that working-class people are bitter and cling to their guns and religion as a way of dealing with the economic uncertainty they face.
"The cling-to part about religion and guns is where the McCain campaign is going to hammer home on," said Kevin Madden, a GOP analyst who was the spokesman for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's presidential bid.
In recent days, the Republican campaign has held focus groups in the Rust Belt and Appalachian states where Obama's messages of hope and change failed to translate into votes, including one session in Pittsburgh -- Obama lost in Pennsylvania to Clinton, and it will almost surely be a critical swing state in the fall. McCain advisers said they found a palpable unease with Obama among those groups.