Crossover voting likely March 6

Nearly a week after union bosses and Democratic operatives tried to organize crossover voting in the Michigan primary with the intent of embarrassing Mitt Romney in his home state, speculation is beginning to mount over whether the same “sneak attack” strategy will be repeated in some of the 10 states selecting Republican National Convention delegates on March 6.

Post-primary analysis from Michigan (which has no party registration and thus makes crossover voting easy) shows that only 10 percent of voters in the GOP primary Feb. 28 were Democrats.  That was far below the 17 percent of Republican voters in the 2000 primary who were Democrats—enough to give John McCain a convincing win over George W. Bush.  This year, Romney won a close contest with Rick Santorum by a margin of 41 percent to 38 percent.  But it was clear that the strong performance by Santorum was made possible by crossover Democrats, with one exit poll showing them favoring the Pennsylvanian over Romney by a margin of 53 percent to 18 percent.

At first glance, it would seem that Ohio with its large manufacturing community and strong union presence is a likely target for such an assault on the Republican balloting by Democrats.  However, if there is going to be such an assault, it will almost surely be a very small one.  Unlike Michigan, Ohio has registration by party.  Voters, however, can change their affiliation at the polls on Tuesday.  Last week, State Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern told reporters he would not encourage his party’s voters to crossover and make mischief among the Republican primary.  However, he also declined to tell other groups not to encourage this practice.

Last week, left-wing activist Markos Moulitsas Zinga of the Daily Kos, who encouraged crossovers for Santorum in Michigan (and dubbed the project “Operation Hilarity”), announced plans to drum up similar mischief in North Dakota, Tennessee and Vermont.  All three of the states permit crossover voting—Tennessee and Vermont in primaries, and North Dakota in its caucuses.

Tennessee is considered a toss-up, with most polls showing Newt Gingrich in the lead, followed by Romney and Santorum respectively.  Vermont has long been considered solid “Romney country.”  North Dakota will be especially intriguing to watch, since its caucuses traditionally attract very low turnouts of participants and a significant crossover could pack a major wallop.  With most GOP leaders in the Roughrider State in Romney’s corner, a close contest for delegates or an upset by one of his opponents would be major news.

The rules in most states and the last-minute nature of the “sneak attack” make any major impact on Republicans this Tuesday unlikely.  But when there is a low turnout and a suddenly close contest for the lead in one state, well, watch out.