In Democratic Primary, expect a GOP Turnout
BASTROP — At John's barber and styling shop in the historic downtown of this conservative community southeast of Austin, politics is clearly in the air these days.
What has particularly struck stylist Pete Campos is how many of his Republican customers are talking about voting for Barack Obama in the March 4 Democratic presidential primary, motivated more, he surmised, by a strong dislike of Hillary Clinton than a strong attachment to Obama.
"I think Hillary scares some people," said Campos, an independent who is leaning toward voting for the Illinois senator.
According to polling, as well as anecdotal evidence, an unusually large number of Republicans and independents may cast their votes in the Democratic contest next week, a prospect that could tip the outcome of what polls show is now a tight race. Such defections could also affect the many local and state legislative primaries around the state.
An American Research Group poll released Monday showed Obama leading Clinton, 71 percent to 25 percent, among Texas independents and Republicans who are likely to vote in the Democratic primary.
There is scattered evidence across the state that some Republicans may be voting Democratic, at least for a day. In one precinct in the suburban Houston neighborhood of Kingwood, where 82 percent of voters cast ballots for President Bush in 2004, Democrats were outvoting Republicans 4-to-1 last week in early voting.
Daron Shaw, a political science professor at University of Texas, said surveys he conducted in two state legislative districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area revealed that almost a quarter of voters with a history of voting in GOP primaries planned on participating in the Democratic primary.
Shaw, who conducts exit polls for Fox News, said that while some Republicans are voting in the Democratic primary largely for strategic reasons, he said others may be tired of GOP control of government and are drawn to a fresh face and ideas.
Another factor contributing to the crossover voting is a lackluster GOP presidential contest. Front-runner John McCain is expected to win the nomination, no matter how well rivals Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul do in the Lone Star State.
With the Arizona senator in command of the GOP race, some Republicans are motivated to cast a protest vote against Clinton.
Michael Jones, a 39-year-old self-described conservative Republican who is involved in marketing, said he will cast his vote for Obama in the primary "so Hillary gets out."
But he isn't enamored of Obama, a first-term senator whose experience has come under fire from both Clinton and McCain.
"I just wish he would get some substance," Jones said. Yet Jones said he is undecided about the general election because he doesn't like McCain, whom he described as "just another Washington senator."
Even though polls show that Clinton would be a weaker candidate against McCain than would Obama, experts say Republicans, who have long expressed a visceral distaste for Bill and Hillary Clinton, want to prevent her from being on the ballot in November.
"The argument I've seen is, 'Let's get rid of Clinton once and for all,' " said Ralph Bordie, who conducts the IVR Poll in Texas.
Bordie's latest statewide poll released last week found that 15 percent of Texas Republicans who said they will support the GOP nominee in November plan nonetheless on voting for Obama next week.
Debi McLoughlin, a 52-year-old Department of Public Safety worker who was waiting while her daughter had her hair cut, said she usually supports Republicans. But she is likely to declare herself a Democrat so she can choose Obama.
"A vote for Obama is a vote against Hillary," said McLoughlin. She may also vote for Obama again in the general election because she thinks the 71-year-old McCain is too old.
Across the street having lunch at Maxine's restaurant, Dot Berkner, a Republican, said she will check the polls right before the primary, and if Clinton is ahead, she will vote in the Democratic primary.
"I don't want her in the final choice," said Berkner, who added she will vote for McCain in the general election.
A plus for conservatives?Some Republicans doubt that most longtime party loyalists will actually cross over, in part because they would forfeit the right to participate in some competitive local primary contests, including the races for Harris County district attorney and the Houston suburban congressional seat formerly held by Tom DeLay.
"I think partisan voting is a lot like blood type, impossible to change," said Hans Klinger, spokesman for the Texas Republican Party.
But if some moderate Republicans do vote in the Democratic primary, that could mean conservative candidates in the local and state GOP legislative races might fare better.
Josh Earnest, an Obama spokesman, said the campaign had done less in Texas than elsewhere to target Republicans and independents because of the size of the state and short time before the primary.
Nevertheless, he said, "what we've seen in the previous primaries and caucuses — beginning in Iowa — is that Republicans and independents have voted in record numbers for Barack Obama, because they too are hungry for change in Washington."
A Clinton campaign spokesperson did not return a phone call or e-mail.