Protest Votes Handicap McCain in Primaries; Bush Retained More Party Support at Same Stage

Article excerpt

Byline: Stephen Dinan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Sen. John McCain wrapped up Republicans' presidential nomination long ago, but a substantial percentage of voters - about one-fourth - still showed up to vote against him in the three most-recent Republican presidential primaries.

Based on the contests in Pennsylvania, Indiana and North Carolina, Mr. McCain is doing better at winning supporters in his own party at this stage of the race than Bob Dole in 1996, but he trails the performance of then-Gov. George W. Bush in 2000 - the last two contested Republican presidential races.

In Tuesday's North Carolina and Indiana primaries, Mr. McCain won 74 percent and 78 percent, respectively. That compares with Mr. Bush's 79 percent in North Carolina in 2000 and 81 percent in Indiana. Pennsylvania was the exception, where he got 73 percent versus 72 percent for Mr. Bush.

With just a handful of small-state contests left, Mr. McCain has won less than 45 percent of the 19 million votes cast in the Republican primaries so far. In 2000, Mr. Bush won 62 percent of Republican votes.

Democrats, engaged in their own bitter primary, have taken heart from Mr. McCain's performance. Sen. Barack Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, told reporters on a conference call yesterday that "John McCain, despite being the nominee, [is] losing about a quarter of the Republican vote."

But the McCain camp sees a positive lesson from the recent primaries - arguing the exit polls actually show an opportunity to split Democrats from their party's nominee.

"If and when Senator Obama becomes the official nominee, Democratic primary voters may not form a tight coalition immediately," McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said in a memo evaluation of the North Carolina and Indiana results. …