GREENVILLE, S.C. – At least two Republican groups in South Carolina are organizing efforts to skew South Carolina’s Democratic presidential primary to make a point and to help reelect President Donald Trump.
They are urging loyal Republicans to vote in the Democratic primary Feb. 29 for candidates perceived to be weak in opposition to Trump – for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in one case and for “the worst Democrat” in another, dubbed “Operation Chaos.”
Since South Carolina has open primaries where voters do not have to register by political party, voters can cast ballots in either race.
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Changing that to create closed primaries requiring party registration has been a goal of some conservatives. And since the state’s Republican presidential primary was canceled this year with Trump running for reelection, this year’s Democratic primary provides opportunity both to help Trump by influencing the choice of his opponent and to make the case for closing primaries by casting meddlesome ballots.
“Rules are rules, and fair is fair,” said Karen Martin, a Spartanburg Tea Party official who helped set up a Facebook page promoting the effort for Republicans to vote for Sanders.
Martin said she sees the effort as payback for years of Democrats voting in Republican primaries.
“What if we got enough people to feel the pain we’ve been feeling?” she asked.
Discussions about organizing the effort began in the summer and went live Tuesday with social media, Martin said.
She said a Sanders win in South Carolina would especially hurt former Vice President Joe Biden and lead to a clear contrast between the agendas of Sanders and Trump, a development she feels would benefit Trump.
A campaign spokesperson for Sanders didn’t immediately respond to a message from the Greenville News, part of the USA TODAY Network.
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With no Republican primary, GOP supporters are free to vote for ‘chaos’
With no Republican presidential primary this year, Republicans are free to make what political scientists call negative strategic votes for Democrats without having to sacrifice the chance to vote for their own party.
Voters can cast ballots in only one primary per election, but they can vote however they choose in general elections despite the primary they choose.
The only cost for Republicans who are so inclined to instigate “chaos?” They’ll get on a Democratic mailing list.
And, indeed, they could be a factor in the primary, said David Woodard, a Clemson University professor who has consulted with Republicans for decades.
Republicans who otherwise wouldn’t want to interrupt their Republican voting record could actually brag about crossing over this year, Woodard said. And fueled by impeachment and memories of Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Republicans will be highly motivated this year, Woodard said.
Statewide, the Republican turnout of 740,881 voters in the 2016 presidential primary was almost exactly twice the turnout of the Democratic primary.
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“It used to be called mischief voting,” said Woodard, who described a tradition of voters casting inauspicious ballots for opposing parties.
There were such George McGovern crossover voters in 1972, Woodard said.
And Woodard said some GOP consultants suggested in 2000 that votes for John McCain were coming from Democrats.
Such organized crossover efforts were promoted in 2008 by syndicated radio show host Rush Limbaugh.
In 2016, according to Woodard, there was a small effort among Democrats to vote for Trump in the Republican primary because they thought he would be an easier opponent to beat in the general election.
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