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The Crossover Voter
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, February 18, 2000

Question: In Virginia, you don't register by party – you merely register as a voter. When there is a primary, it has to be open to all registered voters. And when one party has a contested primary and the other doesn't, members of the other party sometimes use that as an opportunity to vote for the candidate they think their candidate will have an easier time with. That's at least one theory for why the Democrats have shied away from open primaries of late. Crossover voting in primaries helped to nominate Henry Howell, [the late, liberal Democrat who ran for governor], who would then be beaten in the general election. – John Stoner, Charlottesville, Va.

Answer: There are two schools of thought for why voters cross over. As I alluded to in my Feb. 7 column, anecdotal evidence suggests that some of the overwhelming number of independent voters who opted for John McCain over George W. Bush in the New Hampshire primary were closet Democrats who chose McCain to embarrass GOP front-runner Bush. But the other reason is that McCain genuinely appealed to these voters, that his reputation for straight talk outweighed any ideological concerns. I wonder, though, given how few voters actually show up at the polls to vote for a candidate, whether there is a large contingent who show up just to vote against a candidate. Furthering this argument, Jennifer Kenney of Christiansburg, Va., writes that she has never supported a Republican presidential candidate before, but this year she is volunteering for McCain. And she argued against my point about widespread mischievous voting: "As a Democrat, if I were voting in a Republican primary just to make mischief, I wouldn't vote for McCain. He has a very good chance to win in November. If I were looking to create mischief, I'd cast my vote for Alan Keyes."

Many Republicans did indeed cross over in the 1969 and 1977 gubernatorial primaries in Virginia. A sizable number voted for Henry Howell because he was seen as too liberal to win statewide, which proved to be true. It could be argued that George Wallace owed his landslide win in Michigan's 1972 Democratic presidential primary to mischievous GOP crossovers, but (1) Wallace was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt the day before, which may have been a factor in his huge vote; (2) school busing was a big issue in Michigan and Wallace ran aggressively against it; and (3) Wallace won Maryland the same day – a state which did not allow Republican participation.

Button
The South Carolina GOP owes much of its success to crossover Democratic votes. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

At the same time, in some states – such as South Carolina – open primaries are the main reason for the growth in Republican strength. Conservative whites, alarmed as their Democratic Party became more liberal and more black, bolted to the GOP in droves; the list of ex-Democrats includes Sen. Strom Thurmond, former governor David Beasley, Rep. Floyd Spence, and ex-Reps. Tommy Hartnett and Arthur Ravenel, among others. It has not escaped attention that the crossover vote, which contributed to the rise of the GOP in the Palmetto State, has the ironic potential to do some real damage on Feb. 19 to the party establishment, in this case Bush.

Question: What is the possibility of George W. Bush being the running mate, as opposed to the top person, on the Republican ticket? – B.J. Moore, Houston, Tex.

Answer: Little or none. If Bush, the once (and maybe future) overwhelming, odds-on favorite, fails in his bid to win the nomination – if, given all his advantages, he is unable to click with voters in the primaries, it would make no sense to put him on the GOP ticket. We did see his father lose primary after primary to Ronald Reagan in 1980 and yet wind up as Reagan's choice for V.P. But the elder Bush had none of the advantages that W. has. A Bush collapse this time would not be rewarded with the vice presidential nomination.

Question: I've been calling the presidential campaigns to request buttons. Both Gore and Bradley referred me to their on-line political stores. Two questions: first, why are they charging for political stuff, and second, what is the value of these licensed buttons compared to the real thing? – Todd Auwarter, Providence, R.I.
Button
There are some genuinely rare items out this year, like this Gore button from the Iowa caucuses. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: You raise a very important point. Nowhere in this presidential campaign – not even in any of the debates – has this issue come up, and as a long-time button collector and creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest, I find this galling. For the old-timers out there, the fact that you can no longer walk into a headquarters and stuff your pockets with these treasures is one of the tragedies of modern campaigns. They either charge you for buttons or, as you say, refer you to their Web sites. The horrible truth is, campaigns have learned that buttons are usually snapped up by collectors well before they can ever get to supporters. And with millions of dollars having to be raised for the purpose of competing on the airwaves, spending limited resources on political items is no longer cost-effective. Many campaigns have (ugh) resorted to using stickers, which are much cheaper.

Actually, while you do have to shell out for the buttons, the money does not go to the campaigns; they have independent vendors who handle the paraphernalia and keep all the dough. What the campaigns get in return, of course, is free publicity. By most accounts, using the Internet for campaign buttons for 2000 has increased tenfold the number of items on the market, compared to recent election cycles.

As for the value of these things, that is determined by the buyer. You will be interested (or distressed) to know that the Gore and Bradley on-line button shops are run by the same company.


Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.


© Copyright 2000 Ken Rudin


 
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