- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2000


Two burly auto workers coming off the early shift at a General Motors plant here the day after the Michigan Republican primary said they had never voted in a Republican primary before but did so last Tuesday for one reason: to keep George W. Bush from winning it.

“I voted for only one reason, to be a spoiler,” one of the GM workers told me.

When I asked his co-worker if he had also voted for the same reasons or to embarrass Gov. John Engler who is hated by the United Auto Workers Union here and headed the Texas governor’s campaign he said he voted to be “a spoiler for both.”

Although both men went to the polls to vote for John McCain, neither of them were in any way drawn to his insurgent candidacy. When I asked them if they planned to vote for Mr. McCain or any Republican in November, both firmly said no.

Asked if they had been recruited by the Democrats or their union to vote for Mr. McCain, one of the workers said, “I’ll tell you what happened after November.”

In fact, Republican operatives here say that McCain allies and organized labor teamed up in an unholy alliance to get union auto workers to go to the polls to pull the lever for Mr. McCain and shoot down Mr. Engler at the same time. “It wasn’t just a coincidence that all of these Democratic auto workers decided to go out and vote for a Republican in our primary,” a Republican official told me.

A day of voter canvassing in Macomb County, Mich., drew similarly perverse motivations from other Democratic primary voters who admitted that they voted for the Arizona senator even though they did not like him.

And contrary to Mr. McCain’s post-primary victory claim that he was bringing new Democratic voters into the party who would support the Republican presidential nominee in November, these McCain voters said they planned to vote Democratic on election day.

“I voted for McCain and my wife did, too, to upset the apple cart,” said Allan J. Benchich, president of the United Auto Workers Local 909, whose offices are just across the street from the GM plant.

Mr. Benchich said that he planned to vote for Vice President Al Gore in the general election. “Al Gore would be the better candidate,” he told me.

But the UAW boss denied that there was any official coordination between the union or the McCain campaign to turn out their members for Mr. McCain. Still, he acknowledged that auto-worker support for Mr. McCain last week was “pretty widespread.”

There was “a large number of spoilers and a large number of anti-Engler voters” among the heavily Democratic UAW members who participated in the open Republican primary, he told me.

When I suggested that most of these union voters for Mr. McCain would probably be voting Democratic in the fall even if Mr. McCain were the Republican presidential nominee, he replied, “That’s correct.”

In nearby Mount Clemens, I found similar examples of diehard Democrats who voted for Mr. McCain but said that they had no plans to vote for any Republican in November.

“I voted for McCain to give Engler a black eye,” said Richard Powers, a trial lawyer on his way out of the Macomb County Court Building.

But in the same breath, Mr. Powers told me that he does not like Mr. McCain “because he is talking about getting rid of all the special interests. I don’t think groups like Common Cause, the unions and other special interests like that should be prevented from pursuing their causes. I’ll be voting Democratic in the fall,” he said.

So McCain strategists pulled a neat trick in Michigan. They organized a lot of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (52 percent of the voters were non-Republicans), and Mr. McCain drew 86 percent of the former and 92 percent of the latter.

But the immense problem facing Mr. McCain in future primaries can be seen in who won the Republican vote here last Tuesday. Mr. Bush was supported by two-thirds of all Republican voters. Mr. McCain barely carried one fourth of them.

Elsewhere, Mr. McCain has won only 37 percent of the Republican vote in New Hampshire, 26 percent in South Carolina, and only 56 percent in his own state of Arizona.

Ahead of Mr. McCain is an obstacle course of party primaries in which only Republican votes will be counted in awarding convention delegates including California’s winner-take-all primary on March 7, where Mr. Bush’s 3-to-1 advantage among Republican voters, if it holds up, will give him all 162 delegates.

These will be states where the labor-union Democrats that John McCain “rented for the night,” as Mr. Engler put it, won’t be able to help him offset his pathetically weak appeal within his own party.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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