March 7, 2007

McCain Pursuing Rule Changes To Attract Independents

John McCain wants to get rule changes passed in California that will allow independents to vote in the Republican presidential primaries in order to defend against Mitt Romney, the Washington Times reports today. The "stealth" campaign would benefit McCain, his campaign believes, belying his stance that McCain represents the true conservatives in the primary:

Sen. John McCain's campaign is mounting a stealth effort to change Republican presidential nomination rules in California to allow independents to vote in the Feb. 5 primary, party and campaign officials in the state have told The Washington Times.

The impact could be huge -- and potentially damaging to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, currently the most acceptable to traditional-values voters among the three top-tier Republican presidential candidates.

"If California changes its delegate selection rules to allow independent voters to participate in the Republican primary, it would be very helpful for McCain and for Rudy Giuliani, who historically have done very well among independent voters," Federal Election Commissioner Michael E. Toner said.

An official with the Romney organization in California said McCain supporter Duff Sundheim, the former state Republican Party chairman and an ally of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, has been trying to line up votes for the rules change. Several other state officials and campaign operatives independently reported receiving phone calls from Mr. Sundheim seeking support for the change.

Sondheim denied an affiliation with the McCain campaign, but refused to answer when asked about his efforts to seek the rules change. In fact, all three of the leading campaigns refused to talk about any efforts to change the rules in California. The Giuliani campaign said it should be left to Californians to decide, as did the Romney and McCain camps.

It's not unusual for campaigns to attempt to jigger the rules in primaries and caucuses to maximize the prospects for their campaigns. Historically, that happened primarily at the conventions (and still does, to some extent), but that was when most conventions were open, without a winner already selected through the primary process. They go hand in hand with platform fights.

This rule change would be more significant than most, however, and it reflects oddly on the McCain campaign. They have made an effort to cast McCain as the true conservative, with some justification, in a race between the Senator and Giuliani and Romney. McCain has had more consistency on abortion, guns, and government spending than either of his two opponents. That would argue for a closed primary, especially in California, where an open primary would dilute the conservative vote in the primaries.

Instead, McCain would appear to be conceding that conservatives would more likely back Romney at this point in time. Even there, McCain would be playing a dangerous game by forcing an open primary, because Giuliani would attract more of the moderates and centrists, especially in California. The Republicans in California, especially the conservatives, would resent this effort, precisely because it would dilute what little influence conservatives retain in the state.

It's hard to see where McCain wins anything with this effort. If he wants to champion conservatism, one would expect him to keep or even strengthen its influence in the primaries. Then again, one would expect McCain to have met with conservatives at CPAC, too. The campaign seems a bit rudderless at the moment.


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» McCain Tries To Move Goal Posts from Sensible Mom
McCain is panicked by his dropping poll numbers and is seeking a way to get the nomination by changing the rules in the most populous state. This won't endear him to conservatives in particular or republicans in general. [Read More]

» McCain seeks help via voting rules change from Wizbang Politics
Giuliani's people are using the same "it's a state issue" stock answer, so they may be involved as well. It is certainly more crucial for McCain, who has seen his support among the Republican base, limited from the start due to his frequent apostasies,... [Read More]