Back when I was at Texas A&M University, I knew plenty of Democrats who would vote in the Republican primary instead of the Democratic one. Although I refrained from such activity, their rationale was totally reasonable: in such a conservative area, the real contest was almost always the Republican primary. By the time the general election came around, the winner was already a foregone conclusion: it would be whichever candidate had the “R” beside his name. These crossover voters preferred a moderate Republican to a right-wing extremist. Fair enough. And, they probably helped keep local politics more moderate than they would have been if the hardcore conservatives had their way.
Of course, I’ve often heard people bring up the other type of crossover scenario: sabotage. Couldn’t Democrats go and vote in the Republican primary for the most outrageous candidate, causing the Republican Party to nominate a much weaker opponent to take on in the general election? Or vice versa? While theoretically possible in a state like Texas with an open primary system (any voter can vote in the primary of his or her choice), I found it unlikely that enough voters of one party could be mobilized to ever pull this off.
I think I’ve just been proven wrong.
Yesterday, Hillary Clinton had a pretty good day at the polls, winning Rhode Island, Ohio, and the Texas primary. Barack Obama won Vermont, and it looks like he’s going to win the Texas caucus. Although Clinton didn’t win big enough to make a significant dent in Obama’s delegate lead, these were certainly psychological victories for a candidate increasingly being written off. Obama might have sealed up his nomination by winning Texas outright, but that dream has just been squashed…
…by Rush Limbaugh?
Well, Limbaugh did encourage his listeners in Texas to pass on the Republican primary (where a John McCain victory was all but certain) and instead vote in the Democratic primary for Clinton, whom he (rightfully) sees as a less potent challenger than Obama in the general election. Conservatives harbor such an inexplicably enormous hatred toward Hillary Clinton that it looks like Limbaugh might have been able to scare up enough voters to swing the Texas Democratic primary from Obama to Clinton. David Weigel lays out the case at Reason:
Go and check the exit polls. In Wisconsin, Republicans made up 9 percent of the Democratic primary vote. Obama won them 72-28 over Clinton. Just as tellingly, 14 percent of primary voters said they were “conservative,” and Obama won them 59-40, a bigger margin than he won with liberals or moderates. Tactical voters who said Obama stood a better chance of winning in November? They went for him 87-13.
Now, look at Ohio. Once again 9 percent of voters were Republicans, but Obama and Clinton split them evenly, 49-49. Once again, 14 percent of voters were “conservatives,” and Obama and Clinton split them 48-48. (Obama did better with them than he did with liberals and moderates.) Those tactical voters who thought Obama could win gave him a 80-18 victory, a margin twelve points smaller than the margin in Wisconsin.
It’s a similar story in Texas, where Limbaugh has the most listeners of any of these states. Obama won the Republican vote 52-47, but conservatives (22 percent of all voters, up from 15 percent in the Kerry-Edwards primary) went against Obama. For the first time since Super Tuesday, they were Clinton’s best ideological group: She won them 53-43. And Clinton won 13 percent of the people who said Obama was the most electable candidate.
Ohio didn’t wind up being very close, but Clinton won the Texas primary by about 98,000 votes out of 2.8 million cast. If the exits are right, about 252,000 of those voters were Republicans, and about 618,000 were conservatives. Clinton truly might have won the Texas primary on the backs of Rush Limbaugh listeners.
(Hat tip to Slate)
And, who can blame them? They want to keep Clinton in the race for two reasons. Firstly, if the Democratic convention this year comes down to this (see link), it certainly can’t hurt the Republicans. Also, even though I find Clinton an almost incomparably better candidate than McCain, Obama is still a much more formidable opponent in the general election. (In addition to all of that, based on some of the tactics that the Clinton camp has embraced as of late, one could easily mistake her for a Republican, anyway.)
If there’s any upside to this, though, having so many rabid conservatives opt out of the Republican primary may have helped moderate Republican candidate Pat Hardy–running as an incumbent for the Texas School Board–fend off a challenge from a hardcore creationist (although she won by enough votes that this probably wasn’t due to the Limbaugh factor). Whew.