For a party that loves to hate the Clintons, Republican voters have cast an awful lot of ballots lately for Senator Hillary Clinton: About 100,000 GOP loyalists voted for her in Ohio, 119,000 in Texas, and about 38,000 in Mississippi, exit polls show.
A sudden change of heart? Hardly.
Since Senator John McCain effectively sewed up the GOP nomination last month, Republicans have begun participating in Democratic primaries specifically to vote for Clinton, a tactic that some voters and local Republican activists think will help their party in November. With every delegate important in the tight Democratic race, this trend could help shape the outcome if it continues in the remaining Democratic primaries open to all voters.
A lot of it appears to be because they're afraid of Obama, and think Clinton would be easier to beat in the general election:
Spurred by conservative talk radio, GOP voters who say they would never back Clinton in a general election are voting for her now for strategic reasons: Some want to prolong her bitter nomination battle with Barack Obama, others believe she would be easier to beat than Obama in the fall, or they simply want to register objections to Obama.
"It's as simple as, I don't think McCain can beat Obama if Obama is the Democratic choice," said Kyle Britt, 49, a Republican-leaning independent from Huntsville, Texas, who voted for Clinton in the March 4 primary. "I do believe Hillary can mobilize enough [anti-Clinton] people to keep her out of office."
Britt, who works in financial services, said he is certain he will vote for McCain in November.
Conservative radio giant Rush Limbaugh said on Fox News on Feb. 29 that he was urging conservatives to cross over and vote for Clinton, their bête noire nonpareil, "if they can stomach it."
"I want our party to win. I want the Democrats to lose," Limbaugh said. "They're in the midst of tearing themselves apart right now. It is fascinating to watch. And it's all going to stop if Hillary loses."
Walter Wilkerson, who has chaired the Republican Party in Montgomery County, Texas, since 1964, said many local conservatives chose to vote for Clinton for strategic reasons.
"These people felt that Clinton would be maybe the easier opponent in the fall," he said. "That remains to be seen."
If Republicans and conservative independents continue their tactical voting, it may be more likely in Indiana, Montana, and Puerto Rico, which allow anyone to vote, and possibly in North Carolina and West Virginia, which open their primaries to Democrats and independent voters.
"If you are a Republican you could pull a Democrat ballot and vote for the Democrat presidential candidate you think will stand the least chance of beating McCain in the fall general election," the assistant editor of the Greene County Daily World, in southwestern Indiana, wrote in a blog post earlier this month.
There's apparently been some musing that the number of crossover / sabotage votes could have given Clinton more delegates than she would've gotten otherwise, possibly even enough to make her win in those states where she otherwise would've lost. But that's the risk we run with these stupid open primaries.