One of Sen. Barack Obama’s surest applause lines comes about halfway into his standard stump speech. It goes like this:
“They whisper to me. They say, ‘Barack, I’m a Republican, but I support you.’ And I say, ‘Thank you. Why are we whispering?’”
If the latest polling data are to be believed, those Republicans aren’t whispering in Texas, where 195 of the 228 delegates the state will send to the Democratic National Convention will be chosen in a primary and caucuses Tuesday.
As many as a tenth of the Texans voting in the Democratic contests could be Republicans, and overwhelmingly they favor Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, the polls show.
“I ran for Republican precinct chair. I went to the Republican state convention,” said one of them, Donald Rau of Austin, who has already voted in early balloting. “In this election, I voted for Barack Obama.”
GOP support ‘no longer surprising’
A poll released this week by SurveyUSA of Verona, N.J., indicated that registered Republicans would make up 9 percent of Democratic primary voters next week. Michael Baselice, head of Baselice and Associates, a Texas polling firm, said that was in line with what his company was finding.
A bloc that large could make a significant difference for Obama, who holds a large lead over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York among Texas Republicans, especially in a close race. Polls this week were showing a dead heat in Texas as Obama began pulling even with Clinton.
To be sure, the Clinton campaign is drawing some first-time support of its own among Republicans.
“I’m a Republican. I’ve been a Republican since I can remember,” said Trey Caliva of Lubbock. But “whenever I vote for an executive office, I have to vote for the best person that does the job. And for me that’s Hillary Clinton.”
But by large margins, more Republicans say they are backing Obama.
American Research Group found this week that as Obama has edged ahead among Democrats, at 47 percent to 46 percent, he is drawing the support of more than 70 percent of Republicans who said they were likely to vote in the Democratic primary. The survey, which questioned 600 likely primary voters Saturday and Sunday, reported a margin of sampling error of 4 percentage points.
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A survey released Tuesday by Public Policy Polling found that while Clinton led Obama by 52 percent to 44 percent among likely primary voters, Republicans who said they would vote in the primary favored Obama by 76 percent to 20 percent. The survey, which questioned 434 likely Democratic primary voters Saturday through Monday, reported a 4.7-point margin of error.
If Republicans make up 9 percent of the Democratic electorate, the average suggested among major polls this week, Obama’s advantage of 2-to-1 to 3-to-1 could translate into a 3½- to 5½-point pad on Tuesday night.
The Obama campaign opened an office in downtown Lubbock only this week, but already, staffers said, plenty of Republicans are calling.
Erin Castle, a volunteer coordinator, said many of the callers were promising to vote for Obama. “Every day,” she said. “It’s no longer surprising.”
Stop-Clinton movement takes root
“Obamacans,” as the campaign likes to call its Republican supporters, offer a variety of reasons for turning out for Obama, not the least of them a lack of interest in the Republican primary now that Sen. John McCain of Arizona has all but wrapped up his party’s nomination. Others say they genuinely think Obama is the best candidate for change.
But a significant proportion say they are temporarily backing Obama for strategic reasons. They plan to vote Republican in November, but for now, their goal is to try to make sure Clinton cannot win.
Although he said he sincerely supported Obama, Rau acknowledged that “Hillary kind of represents the antithesis of a lot of Republican values.”
Baselice, the Texas pollster, said some Republicans were calculating: “What do we need to do to draw the contrast between the Republican nominee and whoever the Democratic nominee will be post-Labor Day?”
Which makes it impossible, he said, to know how much Republican support Obama actually enjoys.
“That’s the $64,000 question,” he said.
Troubling sign for Republicans?
The tension between true Obama supporters and stop-Clinton guerrillas is being played out in a group calling itself Republicans for Obama, which has organized chapters in 23 states, including Texas.
“Even James Carville admits that if Hillary loses Texas, ‘she’s done!’ Republicans can help make this a reality!!! Just think, no more Clintons in the White House!” says a posting on the organization’s Web site, offered as a suggested e-mail to send to Texas Republicans. “I urge you to vote against Hillary Clinton by voting for Barack Obama.”
The posting drew angry replies from Republicans who said they genuinely supported Obama.
“I am so troubled by a sense this is not the ‘fair’ way to do it. It’s strategic, but in a sordid sort of way,” said one reply. “I am voting FOR OBAMA. NOT AGAINST one other candidate.”
For whatever reason, Baselice said, the movement toward Obama should be a warning to Republicans.
“Look, if Texas is a problem for Republicans, then it’s a disaster for the rest of the country,” he said.
NBC affiliates KBCD of Lubbock, Texas; KETK of Tyler, Texas; and KXAN of Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.