At various times during the past few months, as many as 25 percent of Democrats have said they’ll vote for John McCain if Barack Obama/Hillary Rodham Clinton is not the party nominee.
Some conservative Republicans have said stormily they’ll vote for the Democrat over McCain because they think he’s too liberal.
After the sturm und drang of the Democratic primary season (and it will end), what can we expect for the fall election?
We will see both parties running full-tilt to win the White House. The issues are simply too critical for mainstream Democrats and mainstream Republicans to 1) throw away their vote or 2) sit out the election.
If the nominee is Obama — as mathematics still would indicate, despite Clinton’s victories in Ohio and Pennsylvania — thousands of newly registered Democrats will vote, and vote enthusiastically. Even the Clinton machine will go into hyper drive to try to help make sure he beats McCain.
If Clinton somehow rallies to secure the nomination, some Obama-or-bust backers may stay home, but rank-and-file Democrats will be out in force.
As for McCain, once he no longer is running around America’s forgotten places, he will be fighting tooth and nail to win. And the party’s formidable infrastructure will solidly back him.
As the general election gets under way, Democrats will realize that McCain, while a maverick by some GOP standards, is no liberal. By November they’ll have gotten past some of the disappointment that their choice for the nomination didn’t prevail.
Unlike the policy differences between Obama and Clinton, which are small, the differences between McCain and a Democrat — any Democrat — are huge. McCain wants to keep the war in Iraq going. He has not announced new solutions to the economic squeeze engulfing most Americans. He wants to extend President Bush’s tax policies favoring the well to do (on the old grounds that rising tides raise all boats). He does not favor tightening lax regulations. In many areas, he does believe in business as usual.
But he will be arguing that gambling on Democrats to fight the war on terror is too risky and that Democrats will increase taxes. He’ll be presenting himself as the candidate with the most experience. He’ll be disavowing disgraceful political ads by third parties against the Democrat but, as we’ve seen already, won’t be able to stop them.
Democrats will try to convince skeptics that they are tough enough to conduct the fight against al Qaeda. They’ll be trying to convince voters that it’s not possible to raise defense spending, pay for new domestic programs and cut taxes all at the same time. They’ll insist that global warming is a reality that will require real sacrifices and changes in our lifestyles.
They’ll argue that America’s image in the world is so blemished by Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and pre-emptive Iraq war and acceptance of torture as valid that only a Democrat would be seen as credible enough to try to undo the damage. The suggestion will be that McCain has a bad temper that erupts at inopportune moments and that he is too old to be president for four years.
Yes, it will be a hard-fought, nasty campaign that could well result in another squeaker election.
And while some active Democrats are so frustrated right now they’ll insist they may not vote at all or may even vote Republican, after an impassioned general-election campaign they’ll vote, and vote for the Democrat.
And conservatives will beat the drums for McCain, even if they still wish he had not become their front-runner.
As a result, turnout is likely to be the highest it has been in some time.
The year will come when a third party rises in America and Democrats and Republicans seem tired and played out, no longer the powers to beat. But this is not that year.
(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)nationalpress.com.)