The 2008 Pennsylvania primary election has marked a profound exodus of voters from the Republican party to the Democratic party ... whether through disillusionment with the conservative faction, or just to make their vote count in Pennsylvania’s closed primary system.
It seems that every pundit worth his American flag lapel pin has a reason up his sleeve that the 2008 presidential election will be ‘different’ than all preceding contests. Aside from the more obvious differences — the election taking place in the wake of a president with one of the lowest approval rates in history, the first time either a black man or a woman has been a serious contender in one of the two major parties, the first election in which viral marketing and open-source campaign material generation played a major part — one of the most objective differences is in fact very simple. The 2008 Pennsylvania primary election has marked a profound exodus of voters from the Republican party to the Democratic party ... whether through disillusionment with the conservative faction, or just to make their vote count in Pennsylvania’s closed primary system.
“I’m proud to be an American, but I’m not proud of a lot of the things America has done,” says John Peterson of Equinunk, who switched his party to Democrat after being a registered republican for 35 years.
“I remember watching Cindy McCain on television one day and she was saying how proud she was of America right now,” Peterson says. “And I remembered wondering, what is she referring to? The people on the Gulf Coast who are still homeless almost three years after (Hurricane) Katrina? The prescription drugs border guards seize from people leaving Canada in the name of Homeland Security? It was the last straw for me.”
Peterson remembered feeling ambivalently about the Republicans for most of his time as a member, and was a proud supporter of Jimmy Carter. His wife Susan, a lifelong Democrat, worked on the Bobby Kennedy campaign while living in Chicago.
“She suggested I switch, and she’s thrilled now that I’ve done it. She was the first person to point out to me that a lot of the way I felt on issues was more Democrat than Republican. Now that we’re in the same party, she wants us to campaign together, but I’m on the heart transplant list so I’m probably going to take it slow at first.”
“I’d be willing to put bumper stickers on my car and a sign on my lawn,” says Honesdale attorney Albert “Ab” Rutherford, who also switched parties along with his wife Sally. Unlike Mr. Peterson, however, he doesn’t see this as a lifelong switch in affiliation.
“My feelings toward the neoconservative (wing of the Republican party) have affected my convictions,” says Rutherford. “I think conservatism has lost its way. I remember voting for Barry Goldwater back in ‘64, my first Presidential election. He was one of the architects of the modern Republican party, and I’ve voted for nearly every Republican candidate since...but once the neoconservatives are gone, I think I’ll probably switch back.”
Preston Township Treasurer Ruth Wenk will also return to the Republican fold after the primaries.
“I’ve been a Republican for over 40 years, and I was very active in my party,” she says. “As an elected official, I feel it my responsibility to return to the Republican party after the primaries...I can feel for John McCain, I really can. My husband served two tours in Vietnam. But I truly think we need a new face to end the war, not someone who says we’re going to be there for a hundred years. I’ve traveled all over the world in my life and found that everywhere you go people are alike, and once you see that it’s hard to look at war the same way.”
One thing all three new-minted Democrats agree on, however, is which candidate they will be supporting.
“I think Barack Obama is the first candidate in 40 years who can really make a difference,” Peterson says. “I haven’t felt this way about a political candidate since I was a teenager.”
“I’ve been deeply impressed by Senator Obama’s eloquence and convictions,” says Rutherford. “Clinton’s a sharp gal too, make no mistake, but I think it’s Obama’s time.”
“I’ve seen a lot of elections in my time, and this one’s altogether different,” says Wenk. “If Pennsylvania didn’t have a closed primary, I would have remained a Republican but still voted for Obama. He’s going to change politics.”
Full statistics on transfers from the Republican to Democrat party will be released later this week, but the number in our area is estimated to be around 600.