Friday, May 9, 2008

The Audacity of Bipartisanship

It would appear that the bloggers for The Nation are beginning to shift their attention from handicapping the Democratic Primary to handicapping the November election. For example John Nichols put up a reflection yesterday evening on the "news buzz" over supporters of Hillary Clinton claiming they would choose John McCain over Barack Obama. Nichols decided to "compare and contrast" the "data points behind the buzz" (whose statistical validity is at best questionable) with some "hard" data on how Republicans were actually voting on Tuesday in North Carolina and Indiana:

Despite the fact that all-but-coronated Republican nominee John McCain was running essentially without opposition Tuesday, 27 percent of Republican primary participants in North Carolina cast their votes for a candidate other than McCain. In Indiana, 23 percent of Republican primary voters rejected the senator from Arizona.

Each state saw a portion of the Republican vote go to Texas Congressman Ron Paul, the libertarian, anti-war candidate who has maintained a semi-serious campaign while focusing on getting reelected to the House. But most of the anti-McCain votes went to Republicans who aren't even running anymore.

In North Carolina, almost 63,000 Republican primary voters – 12 percent of the total – marked their ballots for former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a Baptist preacher who is far more visceral than the likely nominee on social issues. Another 8 percent went for Paul, while 4 percent – one in every 25 North Carolinians who took GOP ballots – checked "no preference." In effect, they said that no one at all was better than John McCain.

Almost 20,000 Indiana Republican voters cast their ballots for the living embodiment of no one at all: former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Twice that number voted for Huckabee, who won 10 percent of the Indiana vote, while Paul took 8 percent.

In both primary states, Republicans in many counties registered even greater opposition to McCain than was suggested in the statewide totals. In North Carolina, for instance, 43 percent of the voters in rural Madison County rejected the presumptive nominee, while a third of the voters in the populous Mecklenburg County cast anti-McCain votes. Most of those votes went to Paul, whose genuinely maverick candidacy has attracted backers who are not at all certain to back McCain in November.

At the very least this indicates that there is as much discontent and division on the Republican side as there is among the Democrats.

This has led Nicholas von Hoffman to speculate that, if Obama does get the nomination, his personal "platform of issues" (as opposed to whatever the Platform Committee at the Convention hammers into existence) might be better served by a Republican nominee for Vice President. Hoffman began his speculation by pointing out that Clinton would be an inappropriate running mate, since she represents the "old politics" whose opposition has been a key plank in the Obama "personal platform." Certainly, that rejection of "old politics" has had a lot to do with Obama's appeal; and, if the Convention even hinted that he might back off of that rejection, it could cost him the votes of many of his strongest supporters. This is also a point that would differentiate him from McCain; but that logic could be extended to another major issue.

That issue, of course, is the Iraq war. Obama needs to reinforce his position against that war before the "old politics" catch up with him. Hoffman proposed that Obama could run with a Republican who shared his anti-war position, such as Chuck Hagel. Hagel's decision to retire from the Senate was based, at least in part, on a rejection of "old politics;" but it may also have reflected a genuine need to "get out of the game." A possibility that Hoffman did not consider, however, is a Republican woman who has never been comfortable with having her strings pulled by the White House. That woman is Senator Susan Collins, whose backbone is strong enough to turn on the "old politics" and whose convictions may provide a healthy complement to Obama's. Hoffman concluded his analysis by stating that an Obama-Hagel ticket "might not be dreamy but it would be a turn of the page." An Obama-Collins ticket could well be just as much "a turn of the page" and may also have that "dreamy" quality, which drew so many supporters to Obama in the first place.

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