- The Washington Times - Monday, August 29, 2011

Rep. Michele Bachmann says she is winning the kind of crossover support from disgruntled Democrats and independents that will be needed to defeat President Obama next year, but pollsters and political analysts don’t think the claim — at least for now — pans out.

Boasting about crossover appeal is a tried-and-true strategy of all campaigns, and it is particularly useful in repelling claims of extremism. It helped propel Mr. Obama to victory in 2008 and President George W. Bush to re-election in 2004.

Now, Mrs. Bachmann is seeking to make an early appeal to Republican base voters that if she becomes their standard-bearer, she can reach beyond them. After winning the Iowa Republican Party’s straw poll in Ames this month, she said “a lot of Democrats came out to this straw poll to vote for me, and independents.”

“And that’s what I’m seeing, quite frankly, all across the country,” she said in a public relations victory lap. “People who said, ‘I really thought very highly of President Obama, but now I’m not so sure. He won’t have my vote the next time.’”

Her campaign hasn’t responded to repeated requests by The Washington Times for evidence that she is broadening her base, and analysts are skeptical that she has picked up support outside the Republican ranks so quickly.

“There may be the occasional anecdotal incident where somebody says to her, ‘I’m a Democrat and I supporting you,’ or ‘I’m an independent and I’m supporting you’ — but there has been no evidence thus far of a general trend of Democrats and independents supporting her,” said Dennis J. Goldford, a political-science professor at Drake University. “There is a difference between the occasional anecdotal evidence, as opposed to broader, systematic support.”

Some polls show that the three-term congresswoman from Minnesota is struggling to widen her pool of support compared with some of her GOP rivals.

In a recent national Gallup poll, independents said they would favor Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas in a matchup against Mr. Obama, but would not vote for Mrs. Bachmann in a race against the incumbent.

A recent Magellan Strategies poll told a similar story in Florida, where independents said they were willing to support Mr. Romney or Mr. Perry — but not Mrs. Bachmann — over Mr. Obama. Mr. Paul was not included in the survey.

It’s the same in New Hampshire, where the University of New Hampshire’s survey center found this year that Mrs. Bachmann trailed the president by double digits among independent voters, while Mr. Romney led the president by double digits among those same voters.

“Romney does the best, by a considerable margin, among independents and undeclareds,” said Andrew E. Smith, director of the survey center.

Most general election campaigns build arms dedicated to reaching out to crossover voters. In 2008, Mr. Obama had “Republicans for Obama,” and in 2004, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts made much of the Republican voters who had distanced themselves from Mr. Bush.

Mr. Bush touted the Democratic voters he said were switching support to him after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks boosted the national security issue in their minds.

Exit polls from the 2004 election suggest that the strategy paid off. Mr. Bush won fairly strong support from Democrats and essentially split the pool of independent voters with Mr. Kerry, who failed to rummage much GOP support.

Four years later, Mr. Obama performed reasonably well among Republicans and walloped Sen. John McCain of Arizona among independents. The electoral tide turned dramatically in the House elections last year, where independents poured back into the Republican camp.

The tricky task now for all the GOP candidates is to brandish their conservative bona fides in the nomination fight in a way that they don’t turn off the broader electorate.

“Even if every Republican votes for you in a general [election], it is still not enough to get a majority of the votes,” Mr. Goldford said.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. echoed that sentiment in a recent interview with a warning: “When you find yourself in an extreme end of the Republican Party, you make yourself unelectable.”

“We’ve got to remember in order to beat Obama in 2012, we’ve got to have numbers on our side,” Mr. Huntsman said, casting himself as the more electable alternative to Mrs. Bachmann and Mr. Perry. “We’ve got to win back the Reagan Democrats. We’ve got to win back the disaffected independents who used to be Republicans.”

Going after independents and some votes in the opposing party usually is a general election strategy. Mrs. Bachmann, however, has made the claim early in the primary campaign as she tries to show GOP voters that her appeal is not limited.

Analysts said she is likely overstating the amount of support she has gained.

“It’s doubtful she has any meaningful support among Democrats or independents,” political analyst Charlie Cook said. “So, if she says she has the support of Republicans, Democrats and independents, it must be technically true. She has to have some support among at least a few, even if it implies something more than that.”

He added, “It’s kind of like her promise to get oil prices under $2 if elected. There has never been a four-year period when gas hasn’t gotten below $2, so the promise might not be as wild as it sounds.”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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