WASHINGTON (AFP) — While John McCain is practically assured the Republican presidential nomination, many party members are having a hard time accepting him — and showing it with symbolic votes against him in primary contests.
The Republican nomination battle has been all but decided for over two months. Still, some Republicans used the April 22 Pennsylvania primary and last week’s votes in Indiana and North Carolina to register their unhappiness with the de facto victor.
Some vote for libertarian Texan Ron Paul, who has refused to quit the race and has racked up more than one million votes, according to his campaign.
Other Republicans keep voting for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and former governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas — both markedly more conservative than McCain — although both have long since dropped out of the race and endorsed him.
As many as 25 percent of Republican voters want a different candidate to represent their party in the November 4 presidential election. In Pennsylvania, 27 percent opted for Huckabee or Paul; in North Carolina and Indiana on May 6, McCain opponents earned 23 percent of the vote.
The Washington Times, a conservative newspaper, calculated that McCain had garnered no more than 45 percent of the Republican vote since January.
McCain’s reputation as a party maverick and a compromising moderate has left the party’s most conservative and ideological members disgruntled.
On Thursday, McCain vigorously denied voting in the 2000 presidential elections against Bush, his main rival during the Republican primaries that year.
Popular liberal pundit and Internet blogger Ariana Huffington had published a report that shortly after the election, McCain revealed during a dinner that he did not vote for his party’s nominee.
“I voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004,” the Republican candidate insisted on Fox News. “And not only that, far more important than a vote, I campaigned everywhere in America for him.”
While such defenses might help the Arizona senator woo the most conservative Republicans, it carries great risks.
A Wall Street Journal opinion poll last week showed only 27 percent of Americans approved of Bush’s performance. And 43 percent said they worried that McCain “will be too closely aligned with the Bush agenda” — a worry Democrats are already moving to exploit.