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Republicans for Obama?

By Tom Bevan

In this morning's Chicago Sun-Times, Jennifer Hunter writes:

There is an interesting phenomenon that has arisen over the last few months: a trend of moderate Republicans who want to vote for Barack Obama. It may seem counterintuitive, conservatives supporting a candidate who wants to tax the wealthy and embrace the conventions in the Kyoto Accord, but there is something in Obama's message about ridding politics of partisanship that is appealing to these Republicans.

Is this true? Hunter doesn't cite any poll numbers to support this "phenomenon." Instead, she constructs her story around quotes from three people: Kenneth Wehking, 38, a Denver man who works for a software company; Randy Cooper, a 60-year-old lawyer from Eaton, N.H.; and Chicagoan Dian Eller, a person whom we learn nothing about except for the fact that she voted for George W. Bush in 2000 but not in 2004.

Hunter also cites the web site Republicans For Obama (RFO) to support her theory about rising moderate Republican support for Obama. But according the web site's own statistics, RFO has chapters in 11 states with 74 total subscribers - including only five in Illinois. That would hardly seem to qualify as a "phenomenon."

Hunter clearly doesn't have the data to support her claim of rising support for Obama among moderate Republicans, but that doesn't necessarily mean she's wrong. In fact, she may be right.

We know from past experience in Illinois that Obama is capable of generating significant support among Republicans. In 2004 he won the Senate race with 70% of the vote, including 40% of Republicans and 74% of Independents. The exit poll data broken down by ideology showed Obama winning the support of 80% of self-described "moderates" (50% of the electorate that year) and 33% of self-described "conservatives" (27% of the electorate).

Those are impressive numbers, until you factor in that Obama was running against Alan Keyes, a man whose fiery, over the top rhetoric scared the daylights out of suburban moderate Republicans.

So, under the right circumstances, Obama has proven he can win over Republicans. But, getting back to Hunter's claim, just how much support does Obama currently enjoy among Republicans right now, and is it more or less than other candidates?

The short answer is we don't really know. What we can do is look at some recent poll data breaking down general election match ups by party identification to see how Obama's support among Republicans compares to Hillary Clinton's. Incidentally, an important flip side to the equation is looking at how much Democratic support Obama and Clinton lose when matched up against Republican candidates.

As you can see from the chart below, Obama and Clinton get the same amount of Republican support when pitted against Giuliani, and Obama actually loses more Democrats to Rudy than Clinton does. Obama's strength against Giuliani, relative to Clinton's, lies with Independents:


The numbers are fairly even against McCain as well: Obama does a little bit better with Republicans than Clinton but runs slightly less strong among Independents:


When pitted against Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney, two candidates who are widely viewed as more "conservative" (though the McCain people would almost certainly object to that characterization), Obama does show a significant uptick in Republican support relative to Hillary Clinton. He also keeps just as many Democrats as Clinton, and he maintains an advantage with Independents:


So it would seem, based on the limited data available, that Obama does have more potential to pick up Republican support than Clinton does in a general election (no big surprise there), but "Republicans for Obama" is isn't a necessarily a "phenomenon" in and of itself. It depends very much on who the Republicans nominate.

And when you look at this data, combined with the various scenarios that play out on the electoral map, you can see why Rudy Giuliani, if he can possibly make it through the Republican nomination process, poses real problems for Democrats and probably gives the GOP its best shot at hanging on to the White House.

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics. Email:

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