As the Democrats struggle to select their nominee, John McCain is quietly finalizing his fall strategy. One of his goals will be to attract white working-class and culturally conservative Democrats who supported Ronald Reagan and now have their doubts about the Democratic presidential candidates, especially Barack Obama. This trend was particularly clear in the May 13 primary in West Virginia, where Obama did poorly among such voters. "The Reagan Democrats are in play more than they've been in a long time," says Frank Donatelli, a senior official at the Republican National Committee and former White House political director for Reagan.
McCain is trying to wage a different kind of Republican campaign, walking the tightrope between appealing to the gop's conservative base and attracting swing voters, independents, and conservative Democrats. Another challenge for him is to show his disagreements with the unpopular George W. Bush and at the same time not seem disloyal to the White House. In the coming weeks, McCain plans to emphasize a mixed bag of issues, including the need to control global warming, restrain federal spending, win the war in Iraq with a Reagan-like policy of peace through strength, and keep taxes low. One problem, his critics say, might be the lack of a unifying theme.
As for the opposition, those Reagan Democrats have figured prominently in the campaign of Hillary Clinton as she has tried to catch Obama in the delegate race. Clinton argues that she would unify working-class white voters in a bid to rebuild the winning coalition assembled by her husband, Bill, in the 1990s. Geoff Garin, her chief strategist, says she connects strongly with Americans "who are struggling with this economy" and believe she will fight for them. But Cornell Belcher, a pollster for Obama, says the media's focus on the working-class white vote is overdone. He says Obama is well on his way to creating a new majority coalition that includes not only Democrats of all stripes but independents, centrist Republicans, African-Americans, and millions of new young voters.