- The Washington Times - Friday, February 18, 2000

Republicans are wondering what their party will be like if independents and Democrats end up determining its presidential nominee and if some of those non-Republicans decide to take up permanent residence in the Republican Party.

"Absolutely, the party will change," Iowa Republican Party Chairman Kayne Robinson said. "It is a disaster for the party."

Most party leaders agree that if Sen. John McCain of Arizona defeats Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the open-to-all South Carolina Republican primary Saturday, it will be on the strength of non-Republicans who support Mr. McCain.

Some Republicans see no problem in that. They argue that Mr. McCain's attraction to non-Republicans is healthy because it expands their party. Others say that is nonsense, and that what faces the Republican Party this time is not analogous to the coalition that Ronald Reagan was able to build with blue-collar, mainly ethnic, socially conservative Democrats in the 1980s.

"There is nothing wrong with appealing to independents, but Reagan did that by taking the conservative Republican values and message and saying, 'You agree with these things, so come along,' " said Bush supporter David A. Keene, the chairman of the American Conservative Union.

"McCain, however, is sort of winking at them the Democrats and independents and saying, 'I'm a lot more like you. I share your values,' " Mr. Keene added. "[Ronald] Reagan was expanding the party. McCain is using the Democrats and independents to wrest the nomination from the Republican party to go over the heads of Republicans."

Mr. Robinson agreed.

"The Reagan Democrats didn't come into Republican primaries as some kind of Democratic Party trick," he said. "They voted for Ronald Reagan in the general election. And they did it again four years later. That is the big difference a lot of people are missing."

Bill Dal Col, a former Jack Kemp aide who managed Steve Forbes' Republican nomination campaign this year and four years ago, is sanguine about the effect on the ideological complexion of the party.

"Like the old Reagan coalition, McCain Democrats are being united by an individual who appears to be above any party and issues and by their anti-Clinton feelings," said Mr. Dal Col.

If Mr. McCain scores a clear victory Saturday, he would then be heavily favored to win the open-to-all-voters Michigan Republican primary on Feb. 22 and might then become very hard to beat.

In South Carolina, Mr. McCain enjoys a huge lead among independents and Democrats in the polls. Mr. Bush is ahead among Republicans and conservatives, but whether that will be enough to offset a huge independent and Democrat turnout is in question.

The only way anyone will know how independents and Democrats voted will be through exit polling.

Most independents and Democrats who say they will vote for Mr. McCain are centrists ideologically, and a few are liberals, according to the same polls.

But South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Henry McMaster maintains that the open primary attracts conservative Democrats in his state, many of whom vote Republican in presidential and congressional elections and who will find a comfortable home in the Republican Party once they vote in a Republican primary.

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