Republicans' choice inclusion or exclusion?

McCain's appeal: Senator wins over independents and Democrats but he is too unorthodox for GOP

February 24, 2000

VOTERS in Michigan delivered an uncomfortable message on Tuesday to the conservative core of the Republican Party: The front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, doesn't fare well with independents and Democrats.

Mr. Bush got hammered by both groups. Only his popularity with the party's dominant conservative wing got him within seven percentage points of Arizona Sen. John McCain in the Michigan primary.

This leaves Republican voters in upcoming primaries -- including Maryland's -- with a dilemma. Should they stick by the early leader despite his dismal showing among voting groups that could determine the November presidential election? Or should they back the unorthodox but conservative Mr. McCain?

The Arizona senator has another shot at proving his point in next week's Washington and Virginia primaries, where independents and Democrats can cross over and vote in the GOP contest.

More telling will be Super Tuesday, March 7, when 12 states hold Republican contests -- most of which are limited only to party voters.

In Maryland, Governor Bush has locked up most of the party's leadership. Indeed, three of the top four state party officers are running as Bush delegates on March 7. A small group of moderates, led by Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, is supporting Senator McCain.

They have made little headway in getting party leaders to aggressively promote the fact that independents can vote in their primary. Such a move would likely assist Mr. McCain, not the establishment's choice, Mr. Bush.

A wintertime primary is far from ideal, but interest has been building. Neither party is staging a coronation this year. It looks like the voters, not party leaders, will have the final word.

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