Now that John McCain has won the GOP nomination, Republicans are voting in the Democratic primary in increasing numbers, hoping to pick their opponent for the November election, or at least cause more turmoil in our already divisive nomination battle.
Their choice? Hillary Clinton.
Yesterday, in the Mississippi primary, 24% of Hillary Clinton's support came from Republicans. Unlike the Republican support generated by Barack Obama, according to exit polling data, Clinton's Republican support appears to be part of the explicit plan promoted by radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh to wreak havoc upon the Democratic Party by voting for Hillary Clinton.
Let's first take a look at the bigger picture.
In January and February, while the Republican nomination contest was still being waged, just 3.9% of Democratic primary voters were self-described Republicans. On March 4, the day that John McCain won enough delegates to secure the Republican nomination, Republican participation in Democratic primaries more than doubled.
As you might remember, a day earlier, Rush Limbaugh had appeared as a guest on several radio shows to encourage Republicans in Ohio and Texas to cross party lines and vote for Clinton as way of sabotaguing the Democratic primary promise. On election day, Bill Clinton gave an interview to the guest host of Rush Limbaugh's show.
Yesterday, 12% of Democratic primary voters in Mississippi were Republicans -- triple the numbers from January and February.
As the number of Republicans in the primary has increased, Hillary Clinton's share of the Republican vote has skyrocketed, going from a 69-31 deficit in January and February to a whopping 75-25 lead in Mississippi. Although Barack Obama's share of the Republican vote declined, his absolute percentage did not change much, hovering around 3-4%. In other words, he was simply winning a smaller percentage of a larger pie.
In the abstract, there's nothing wrong with receiving votes from Republicans in the Democratic primary -- as long as those votes come from Republicans who are truly committed to a Democratic candidate. That appears to be the case with Barack Obama, who consistently does well among Republicans and independents in public opinion surveys.
Hillary Clinton's support from Republicans, on the other hand, is coming from Republicans who will not support her in the general election. They are simply wreaking havoc in the Democratic primary, hoping to further divide an already divided party, and perhaps even help Hillary Clinton win the nomination.
How can I be so sure that this is the case?
Well, look at the exit polls from yesterday.
On several questions a shockingly high percentage of the people who voted for Hillary Clinton indicated they did not like her -- numbers that were not reflected in the views of Obama supporters of their own candidate.
For example, 31% of Hillary Clinton's voters said she was not honest and trustworthy. By comparison, just 4% of Barack Obama's supporters said the same.
24% of Hillary Clinton's had a strongly favorable opinion of John McCain -- compared to 6% of Barack Obama's supporters.
Although cross-tabs are not publicly available (at least to my knowledge) these is exceptionally strong evidence that about one-quarter of her vote yesterday came from Republicans were just trying to stick it to the Democratic party.
(I've explained my methodology at the bottom of this page.)
What impact does this have?
First, it has an impact on delegates.
Yesterday, Barack Obama won 60.6% and Clinton won 37.2%. If her Republican voters hadn't shown up, she would have won about 28% and Obama would have won about 68%.
The threshold for winning a larger share of statewide delegates is 62.5% -- so the Republican voters definitely cost him delegates.
I don't know exactly how many and will update this blog entry when I've got more numbers.
Here's an update on the delegate totals from the Daily Kos wizard of odds, poblano. According to poblano, net/net Obama might have been able to do as well as 24-9 instead of 19-14. Put another way, he could have netted +15 instead of +5 delegates -- a ten delegate swing. Anyway, here is poblano's comment (and while I'm at it, let me plug poblano's brand new blog, fivethirtyeight.com):He was very close to the 62.5% threshold to gain 3 out of 4 pledged PLEOs.
He was also close to the threshold for getting 5 out of 7 at-large delegates (he needed 64.3% of the two-way vote to do this).
AND he was close to getting the 70% he needed to win a 4-1 split in CD-3 (he got 66.8%).
AND he was close to getting a 6-1 split in CD-2; he needed 78.6% of the vote to do that, and got 76.3%.
AND he was close to winning CD-1 outright, which would have netted him an extra delegate (he got 48.3% instead of the required 50.000001%).
If Obama had an extra 4% of the vote statewide, he would have surpassed each of these thresholds, and the delegate split would have been 24-9 rather than 19-14.
Second, it has an impact on media perception. One of the key takeaways from the media yesterday was that Hillary Clinton's supporters didn't like Barack Obama as much as Barack Obama's supporters like Hillary Clinton.
They implied racial animus was at the root of this division, nicely playing into the whole Geraldine Ferraro storyline.
They thing they left out was that a full quarter of Clinton's supporters were Republicans! And the Republicans didn't like her either! Because they were gaming the process!
It wasn't race! It was Rush!
Third, Republicans may -- and I qualify this because if they did it was close -- they may have tilted the primary vote in Texas to Hillary Clinton. I estimated that she won at least 65,000 votes from Republicans that she wouldn't have won had there not been an increase in Republican cross-over voting. She won Texas by 100,000. Given the fact that I think some Republicans who are tricky enough to game a primary will lie to exit pollsters and say they are Democratic, I really wouldn't be surprised if Republicans actually won Texas for Hillary Clinton.
The bottom-line as far as I'm concerned is that this new trend is symbolic of a Democratic primary that has gone completely haywire.
Not only is there division between the Clinton camps and the Obama camps, but now Republicans are actively intervening in our primaries and caucues to screw with our process.
It's only going to get worse -- Republicans will change parties when there is closed primaries and in open primaries, they will cross-over and vote for Hillary Clinton in increasing numbers.
Effectively, this emerging pattern calls into question the validity of any voting from here on out, even in closed primaries. There's just so much lead time before the next contests that Republicans have plenty of time to register as Democrats and monkey with our primary.
Imagine just how effin' hard it will be to make sure revotes in Florida and Michigan don't end becoming a huge clusterf**k.
Ironically, this is exactly the kind of scenario that super delegates can be useful in.
The ones that are on the sidelines who clearly support Barack Obama but have not committed to him -- superdelegates like Nancy Pelosi and others -- can publicly declare their support for Barack Obama.
As you can see from this chart, the fact is that in an ungamed primary, there's absolutely no way Hillary Clinton is going to take over the pledged delegate lead. It's just absolutely not going to happen. Nobody thinks it will -- not even the Clinton campaign.
There's also just about no chance she's going to win enough superdelegates to get the nomination.
The problem is that Republicans whose only goal is sabotage our nomination process are going to make this seem closer than it really is. And that's going to embolden Hillary Clinton to continue to make more attacks on our eventual nominee. And it's going to further divide the party. And maybe even cost us the election.
But if enough super delegates step up now, and declare that they will support Barack Obama it will become clear that Hillary Clinton has no path to the nomination -- and even if she does not withdraw from the race, her support will evaporate, and we can begin the process of uniting this divided party so that we can take back the White House in November.
Barack Obama has all but won the nomination. It's time to make it official.
The Republicans are having a party at our expense. It's time to shut it down.
A note on the methodology (skip this if it bores you!):
The exit poll data was taken from MSNBC. You can get it here.
You will notice that none of the numbers I cite in this entry seem to be in the exit poll.
Let me explain why. The exit poll reports the percentage of people overall who agree with each answer to each question. The poll then breaks down how each answer was distributed amongst the candidates. So for example, on the trustworthy question: his Hillary Clinton trustworthy, you learn that overall, 49% say she is and 50% say she isn't. 23% of the people who say she isn't are Clinton backers and 73% are Obama backers. Meanwhile, 52% of the people who say she she IS trustworthy are Clinton backers and 46% are Obama backers. To determine the percentage of Clinton voters who think she is NOT trustworthy, you multiply the number of people who think she isn't trustworthy by the percentage of those people who are Clinton voters, and then divide that by the sum of the same number plus the number of people who think she is trustworthy multiplied by the share of those people who are Clinton supporters. And then you got the numbers. Hopefully that makes sense!