- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2000

John McCain cannot win the Republican presidential nomination without dramatically increasing his take of Republican voters in the upcoming primaries, many of which will be closed to Democrats and independents, political analysts in both parties said yesterday.

George W. Bush has been winning nearly 70 percent of the Republican vote in primaries so far and is likely to keep winning them, the analysts said. While Mr. McCain pulled off a win in Michigan, he did so with the support of only 28 percent of the Republicans who cast ballots, according to exit polls.

Over the next two weeks, a total of 700 delegates are up for grabs, but nearly 400 of those are available in primaries open only to Republicans and independents.

"People are still looking at this as a media circus and not as a delegate hunt, which is what it is," said Ron Faucheux, editor of the nonpartisan

Overall, the four biggest states with 467 delegates at stake are closed to Democrats. In two of them, Mr. Bush has the home-base advantage Texas and Florida, where his brother, Jeb, is governor. The other two are California and New York both closed.

"McCain can't win without Republican votes," said Republican consultant Craig Shirley. "There are too many closed primaries coming."

"The only way he can win most Republican voters is if there is a meltdown in the Bush campaign, and so far there is no evidence of that," he said.

Democrats and independents propelled Mr. McCain to victory in three of the six nomination contests so far, and that has allowed the Arizona senator to continue to claim that he is more electable than the Texas governor in the fall. But those three primaries were open to all voters.

Many upcoming states either limit participation to all but Democrats or award delegates at the summer Republican nominating convention on the basis of Republican votes.

"I don't see how McCain does it without a majority of Republicans," said Steve Merksamer, a California Republican strategist who has not endorsed any candidate.

Said Mr. Shirley: "McCain is going to have to start making the case to conservatives that he is a conservative, and that will be difficult if not impossible to do."

Mr. McCain began attempting just that yesterday, saying he will focus on his conservatism and electability to attract more Republican voters.

"I have to convince and tell our Republican Party establishment: 'It's great over here. Come on in. Join us. Join us in this effort to be an inclusive party. Join us in this effort to reach out,' " he said.

But Tim Morgan, a Republican National Committee member from California who also has not endorsed a candidate, thinks it is just a matter of time until the numbers overwhelm Mr. McCain.

"I don't see how McCain can win the delegate contest nationally or in California," Mr. Morgan said.

He noted that even in primaries that Mr. McCain has won, most voters in exit polling including Democrats and independents said they thought Mr. Bush was more likely to defeat the Democratic candidate in November.

Mr. Morgan thinks it is too late for the McCain campaign to mount an organized effort to register non-Republicans and have them vote in the March 7 primaries across the country.

"It is not widely understood by most voters here that their vote won't count if they are not registered as Republicans," he said.

Political analysts also say that should Mr. McCain pull off the nomination, the Democratic support that he has enjoyed will disappear.

"It is not likely that most of the Democrats who voted for McCain will stick with him," said Mr. Faucheux. "Democrats and independents say yes to him now, but they are a different kind than Ronald Reagan attracted. They were attitudinally conservative and the McCain independents and Democrats do not appear to be that."

David Townsend, a Democratic pollster and consultant in California, agreed. He said most of today's McCain Democrats will change their minds if faced with a general election between Mr. McCain and the Democratic nominee and they'll make the switch for traditional ideological reasons.

"McCain can hide behind his straight-talk hero image, but Democrats will come home to Al Gore in November," Mr. Townsend said.

Analysts say there has been some mischief-making by Democrats to encourage their voters to take part in open Republican primaries and vote for Mr. McCain in order to weaken Mr. Bush. But such a development cannot account for Mr. McCain's large winning margins in New Hampshire and Michigan.

"There is some Democratic manipulation, but when you start losing by 5, 6 or 7 percentage points, you can't chalk all that up to mischief," said Democratic consultant Brain Lunde.

Then there is the third scenario: Mr. McCain fails to win the nomination and chooses to go to a third party. But few observers think Mr. McCain would bolt the GOP if he loses.

Mr. Merksamer noted that Mr. McCain already has said he will stay with the Republican Party, which he called "his home."

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