- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 15, 2000

Democratic leaders in Michigan are urging minorities, union members and liberal activists to vote for John McCain in next week's Republican primary in order to weaken George W. Bush, whom they view as the eventual GOP nominee.
But in South Carolina, which holds its Republican primary on Saturday, Democrats who had been following a similar strategy are shifting course and beginning to urge the party faithful to vote for Mr. Bush, whom they now view as the weaker candidate.
Even in Michigan, where Democrats remain confident that the Texas governor will be the GOP's standard-bearer in November, officials are careful to ask only dyed-in-the-wool Democrats to cross over to Mr. McCain. These leaders are wary of enlisting the more centrist "Reagan Democrats" in their self-described "mischief making" because such voters might be tempted to stick with Mr. McCain in the general election.
"We're talking about minorities, union members only the most sophisticated members of the party faithful," said state Rep. LeMar Lemmons III, president of the Michigan Black Democrats Organization. "We don't want to mess with the group that may end up voting for McCain if he gets the nomination."
"Quite frankly, in the general election, we'd much rather face George W.," Mr. Lemmons said. "But if we can get him bloodied up and weakened from this effort, we certainly intend to do so."
Mr. Lemmons and other Democratic leaders have targeted 30,000 absentee voters and another 70,000 black church members, union workers and liberal activists through mailings, phone banks, radio appeals and "blast faxes." They have analyzed voting patterns to distinguish hard-line Democrats from centrists.
"Although it is our sincere belief that McCain is not going to get the nomination, we want him to weaken Bush," Mr. Lemmons said. "We'd like to see a nice big fight between the two of them, where they spend as much money as possible and defile each other's character. That fight is always good for Democrats."
Mr. Lemmons acknowledged that the strategy could backfire if Mr. McCain ends up winning the nomination because Democrats will have strengthened their general election adversary.
That fear is even more pronounced in South Carolina, where state Rep. Todd Rutherford is now telling Democrats who insist on crossing over in Saturday's GOP primary to vote for Mr. Bush, not Mr. McCain.
"When a lot of this started, McCain was way down in the polls and it looked like we just needed to defeat Bush or at least prolong the contest," Mr. Rutherford said. "But right now in South Carolina you got pretty much a dead heat, so the usefulness of a switchover vote is kind of diminished, especially when McCain looks like he's gaining on Bush nationally."
"And so now, we might have a situation where Bush is actually the underdog and people need to go and prop Bush up," he concluded. "Actually, I worry more about McCain being elected than I do about Bush."
Mr. Rutherford may have inadvertently helped Mr. McCain yesterday by convincing a three-judge panel in Charleston to force the South Carolina Republican Party to open hundreds of precincts in predominately black areas on Saturday. The GOP had argued it did not have the manpower to open the precincts, many of which were closed during presidential primaries in 1992 and 1996.
In fact, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that forced open the precincts is Jim Fitts, a Williamsburg County Democrat who said he will vote for Mr. McCain.
If such Democrats join with independent voters to give Mr. McCain a victory on Saturday, it might be too late for Michigan Democrats to redirect the crossover vote to Mr. Bush just three days later. Besides, some Michigan Democrats are more interested in embarrassing Michigan Gov. John Engler a major Bush backer than in weakening the Texas governor.
"Detroit has had a relationship with the governor that I can't even begin to describe," said Democratic consultant Adolph Mongo of Detroit. "A lot of people hate him. That's a strong word, but that's how some people union members, community activists feel about him."
These anti-Engler forces are hoping to exploit the fact that Democrats who normally would not bother to vote in the GOP primary will be drawn to the polls by a local ballot issue millage for Detroit libraries.
"So they're asking people to go vote for the millage and then send Governor Engler a message by voting for McCain," Mr. Mongo said. "They're doing this openly. The group is calling itself DOGG Democrats Out to Get the Governor."
Mr. Lemmons added: "Because we have a library millage on the same ballot on the open primary, which will draw people to the polls, we might as well take full advantage and give the governor a spanking. Any friend of John Engler is an enemy of ours."
Democratic consultant Richard Leebove said even Michigan Democrats who are not targeted by DOGG might vote for Mr. McCain.
"It's not so much mischief making, because it's hard enough to get people to vote in their own primary, let alone the other party's," Mr. Leebove said. "But there is certainly some movement toward McCain by the old McGovernite wing that still exists in the Michigan Democratic Party.
"And don't forget the two major unions in Michigan the Teamsters and the United Auto Workers have yet to endorse [Vice President Al] Gore," added Mr. Leebove, who specializes in labor issues. "Because they haven't endorsed yet, you do have people out there kind of looking around for a candidate who's not necessarily a Democrat."
While Mr. McCain is counting on the Democratic crossover vote to help him in Michigan, he hopes his home-court advantage carries the day in Arizona, which holds its GOP primary the same day. If Mr. McCain wins both states after prevailing in South Carolina where a new CNN poll shows he leads Mr. Bush 43 percent to 34 percent his momentum might be insurmountable heading into next month's Super Tuesday primaries.
Such a scenario is Mr. Bush's worst nightmare and can be blamed in part on the fact that voting is open to non-Republicans in crucial GOP primaries. In addition to South Carolina and Michigan, these include Virginia, Georgia and North Dakota.
Equally troubling to Mr. Bush is the fact that even in states with primaries that are closed to voters from other political parties, election officials are reporting a flood of Democrats who are switching their registration to Republican, presumably to vote for Mr. McCain.

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