Until now, Shirley Morgan had always been the kind of voter the Republican Party thought it could count on. She comes from a family of staunch Republicans, has a son in the military and has supported Republican presidential candidates ever since she cast her first ballot, for Richard M. Nixon in 1972.
But this year Mrs. Morgan exemplifies a different breed: the Republican crossing over to vote in the Democratic primary. Not only will she mark her ballot for Senator in the May 6 primary here, but she has also been canvassing for him in the heavily Republican suburbs of Hamilton County, just north of Indianapolis — the first time she has ever actively campaigned for a candidate.
“I used to like John McCain, but he’s aligning himself too closely with what Bush did, and that’s just not what I want for this country,” Mrs. Morgan, who is 56, said when asked to explain her rejection of the presumptive Republican nominee.
Since the start of the primary and caucus season in January, Republican voters have been crossing over in increasing numbers to vote in Democratic contests — supplying up to 10 percent of the vote in states that allow such crossover voting — and they are expected to play a pivotal role in the fiercely contested primary here. What is less clear, however, is the motivation for their behavior: are they genuinely attracted by the two Democratic candidates? Or are they mischief-making spoilers, looking to prolong a divisive Democratic fight or support a candidate Mr. McCain can beat in November?
Local Republican Party leaders in Indiana concede the attraction of the Democratic candidates to some of their party members. And interviews with roughly a dozen Republican voters in central Indiana suggest that they are driven mainly by concerns about the economy, with discontent over Bush administration policies driving their involvement in the Democratic race.
“Much as I like John McCain as a war hero, I am fearful he does not have the depth of experience to fix the economy,” said Darlene Boatman, 62, a just-retired sales clerk who favors Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. “We’re all struggling here to make ends meet. I haven’t had health care coverage in about 10 years and jobs are fewer and farther between. The economy is my biggest concern, and I think Hillary has the best understanding of how to pull off the recovery we need.”
Clinton's share of crossover vote growing
The drift has given some comfort to Democrats worried about the searing divisions in their party. Surveys of voters leaving the polls and official vote tabulations indicate that both Mr. Obama, of Illinois, and Mrs. Clinton, of New York, have benefited from the Republican crossover vote, though to different degrees and in patterns that vary by state.
Initially, Mr. Obama seemed to be getting the bulk of the vote, attracting moderate Republicans who quickly came to be known as Obamacans and lacing his stump speech with references to them. But more recently, Mrs. Clinton’s share of the crossover vote has grown.
In Wisconsin’s Feb. 19 contest, for example, Mr. Obama got about three-quarters of the votes cast by those identifying themselves as Republicans. In Texas’ March 4 primary, though, he and Mrs. Clinton split the Republican vote almost evenly, while in Mississippi on March 11, she outpolled him among Republicans by a three-to-one margin.
Even some states without open primaries seem to have experienced crossover voting. In the Pennsylvania vote on April 22, voter surveys indicated that about 5 percent of those voting in the Democratic primary were Republicans who switched their party registration; they split their vote almost evenly between the two candidates.
Here in Indiana, both Democratic candidates are sending surrogates to campaign in traditionally Republican areas they might have ignored in years past, including in Hamilton County, Indiana’s fastest-growing and most affluent county.
“We’re getting a lot of inquiries from Republicans asking how do you do it, how do you cross over,” Dan Parker, the Democratic Party state chairman, said in an interview here. “It’s been our No. 1 request for the past two months.”
Rush Limbaugh's campaign clouds the picture
Clouding the picture, however, is a campaign by Rush Limbaugh, the radio talk show host, urging his listeners to cast their ballots for Mrs. Clinton “if they can stomach it,” in order to prolong the Democratic race and weaken the eventual winner.
“They’re in the midst of tearing themselves apart right now,” Mr. Limbaugh said in an interview with Fox News just before the Texas and Ohio primaries on March 4. “It’s fascinating to watch, and it’s all going to stop if Hillary loses.”
But Republican voters interviewed here said that Mr. Limbaugh was not a factor in their decision to vote in the Democratic primary, and that it was the issues that propelled them.
“I disagree with the Democrats on things like abortion and immigration, but I feel that the Republican Party I grew up in is out of touch with the middle-class family,” said Dave Nichols, 40, the owner of a small memorabilia business in Fort Wayne, who has heard of Mr. Limbaugh’s effort and is supporting Mrs. Clinton.
Mr. Nichols said he had no health insurance and lived on a block where three houses were in foreclosure. “McCain doesn’t have an economic plan,” he said “We’re in a recession and need relief now, but he wants to keep spending all that money over there in Iraq when there are so many things we need here at home, from infrastructure to health care."
Will votes carry over to November?
Republican officials like Murray Clark, the state party chairman in Indiana, say that the extent of the crossover phenomenon has been “greatly exaggerated” and that in any case it does not serve the party’s interests, because it draws potential Republican voters away from deciding other, more local races.
Mr. Clark acknowledged what he called “heightened interest” in the Democratic primary, but argued that Republican-leaning independents, rather than “reliable and consistently Republican voters,” accounted for the bulk of the shift.
“It’s probably a stretch to call it a crossover vote,” Mr. Clark said. “This is a unique situation. The circus is in town, and people want to go. This provides them an opportunity. But when the circus leaves town, we’ll have six months of opportunities to contrast their candidate with ours.”
Indeed, some of the crossover Republicans here who back Mr. Obama said they would vote for Mr. McCain in November if Mrs. Clinton ends up getting the Democratic nomination, while some of those supporting Mrs. Clinton said the same of Mr. Obama. But others said they simply could not imagine gravitating back to the Republican camp in this election.
“I would probably not vote, or maybe look at a third party,” said Becky Kapsalis, who lives in Carmel, Ind., and describes herself as “a 70-year-old white woman for Barack Obama.”
“I respect McCain for what he’s done, his patriotism and devotion,” Ms. Kapsalis said, “but I just don’t think he has the heart to lead us, and he doesn’t speak to my heart the way this Barack Obama man does.”
This article, , originally appeared in The New York Times.