Sure, ultra-conservative Ann Coulter is threatening to campaign for Hillary Clinton if John McCain snags the nomination — "She's more conservative than he is," Coulter recently remarked. But while some young Republicans are supporting the Arizona senator all the same, others in the demographic say they're finding themselves drawn, improbably, to the other Democratic front-runner, Barack Obama. Could this mean that Obama is more capable of pulling moderate Republicans over to his side come November, making him a fiercer Democratic opponent than Clinton?
Both McCain and Obama are seen as potential aces in foreign affairs — the former is a military veteran and ranking minority member of the Committee on Armed Services, and has more than 20 years of experience in the Senate; the latter is a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations and has an international background and JFK-like charisma. Obama is seen as an outsider fighting to shake up the system, McCain a "maverick" who works across party lines. And in a standoff of macho celebrities, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is siding with McCain, while Robert De Niro has Obama's back.
But perhaps most importantly, both McCain and Obama carry clout with indie voters and moderates across party lines. In a speech at College of DuPage in Obama's home state of Illinois over the weekend, Republican rival Mitt Romney pointedly compared McCain to Obama, saying, "I'm afraid it's going to be real hard to win the White House if there's not much difference between our nominee and theirs, and that's why I'm going to make sure that we stand for Republican ideals and win the White House on that platform."
Their differences, of course, are clear: McCain is a fervent supporter of the war in Iraq, while Obama wants to pull out troops immediately. As a social conservative, McCain would support a constitutional ban on abortion and has flip-flopped on whether or not he supports civil unions for gay couples, while Obama is pro-choice and supports civil unions for homosexuals. Nevertheless, some young conservatives are finding themselves tempted by the Democratic candidate. As David Laska, a student and McCain supporter who attended the MTV/MySpace "Closing Arguments" Presidential Dialogue on Saturday, put it: "Barack Obama and John McCain are about as disparate as two candidates can be, and it doesn't really make a whole lot of sense to be considering both of them. But I would put myself in that camp."
So, is this a sign that McCain and Obama are the candidates with the best chance of achieving the political manna that is a majority coalition? If Ronald Reagan reached across the party divide to create the "Reagan Democrats" phenomenon, could this race ultimately be decided by "McCain Democrats" — or "Obama Republicans"? After all, when The New York Times recently endorsed McCain, it emphasized a quality many also see in Obama: bipartisanship.
Washington, D.C., Young Republicans Chairman Marcus Skelton drew a parallel between the tone of Obama's and McCain's campaigns, in contrast to Clinton's: "I think people are tired of the dogfights that we have down here in Washington," he said. With both candidates, Skelton added, young voters "like that they're able to take a stand. I think that's what people are looking for right now."
But is there something more going on behind some of the conservatives cooing over Obama's possible nomination? Something more like old-school political strategizing? The openly conservative New York Post endorsed Obama in bold-face type on one of its recent front pages, while its endorsement of McCain was given smaller play. What makes Obama some Republicans' preferred Democratic candidate? Hampton Williams, president of the New York University College Republicans, offered MTV News one theory: "Republicans would rather see Barack Obama than Hillary Clinton, because Hillary Clinton has the [Clinton] infrastructure that's already won a couple of campaigns. I know some young Republicans [in Missouri and Connecticut] who are planning to vote in the Democratic primary for Obama — which is not so much a vote for Obama as a way to keep Clinton off the bill. If we can pick one who has the least experience in the Senate, who's never run a national campaign before, that's the one we'll take."
But a less cynical view of the situation could simply be that young Republicans are responding to how passionately Obama, more than any of their own party's candidates, has been courting the youth vote. Could Obama's cross-party appeal be an extension of his much-hyped youth appeal? McCain has proven weaker with young voters in the caucuses and primaries thus far. Laska, a staunch conservative, put it simply: "On the Republican side ... they're not really taking our vote into account as much."
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