Hidden votes for McCain in Dot?

A recent call to the state Republican Party inquiring about Dorchester supporters of John McCain, the presumptive nominee, yielded only one name: that of a woman who bought a bumper sticker.

But don't be fooled. Susan Kelly says she isn't the only one who'll be pulling the lever for McCain this November. "There are a lot of closet Republicans that I know," who remain in the closet thanks to the job positions they hold, she says.

Adds Jane Matheson, the head of the Fields Corner Community Development Corporation: "I have people who kind of whisper to me, I'm a Republican and no one knows it."

Kelly says she's been a Republican ever since Ronald Reagan, who once famously stopped in Dorchester's Eire Pub back in 1983, was in the White House.

She's impressed with McCain's war record, Kelly adds, noting that she has a son-in-law who lost a leg in Iraq. McCain spent five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

"He can handle the situation (in Iraq) a lot better" than the two Democratic candidates for president, Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Kelly said. "I just don't agree with them at all."

There is a caveat, however. She says if McCain picks former Gov. Mitt Romney as a running mate, she may stay home, since she feels he "abandoned" Massachusetts as he started to focus on his own presidential bid.

"We're in terrible shape," she says. Romney won the Massachusetts Republican primary handily in February, winning 51 percent to McCain's 41 percent, though McCain bested him in Boston by 47 percent to 44 percent.

Matheson, who considers herself a social liberal and a fiscal conservative, said many who hold the same leanings will find McCain appealing.

"This is a Democrat area," she admits of Dorchester, which sends an-all Democratic delegation to the State House. "But I suspect the man's position, the man's character is going to attract voters. I think he crosses party lines."

That's a possibility even staunch Clinton supporters are raising, with polling data backing them up.

A Gallup poll in late March showed that if Obama is picked as the Democratic nominee, 28 percent of Clinton supporters will go for McCain. That's compared with 19 percent of Obama supporters who would vote for McCain if Clinton is crowned the nominee.

Clinton had a strong showing in the Massachusetts Democratic primary, garnering 56 percent of the vote to Obama's 41 percent, with the strong backing of Senate President Therese Murray, House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. Obama, who won Boston 53 percent to Clinton's 45 percent, had Gov. Deval Patrick and both Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry in his corner.

City Council President Maureen Feeney, who represents parts of Dorchester and has campaigned heavily for Clinton, said she has heard of some Democrats who lean toward Clinton say they're going for McCain over Obama.

"I think so, but you know, we're Democrats, we'll see what happens," she said in a recent brief interview, adding, "To be honest with you, yes. Have I had people tell me that? Yes, I have."

John Doogan, a Dorchester Democrat who also sits on the state Democratic Committee, remembers when McCain ran for president in 2000 against then-Gov. George W. Bush.

"Of my own personal experience, when I was inside one of the polling stations 8 years ago, in the 2000 presidential primary, there were a great many people who chose Republican ballots to vote for McCain," he recalls. That year, McCain received 64.3 percent of the statewide vote to Bush's 31.6 percent.

Doogan says there is definitely the potential for crossover votes this year.

"What we really do not know right now, in having watched conventions and having read the proceedings of the Democratic National Conventions since the 1890s, you never know what happens. So don't presume it could be Clinton people. It could also be Obama people."

Doogan noted that Sen. Obama has picked up the endorsement of Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, who isn't too far from Sen. Joe Lieberman on the political scale. State Rep. John Rogers (D-Norwood), one of the more conservative members of the Legislature, is also supporting Obama, Doogan added.

Much of it could come down to who the nominees pick for their running mates, he says.

"I can't see any Republican that McCain could pick that would absolutely make him stronger in Dorchester," he said, while Clinton or Obama could pick a running mate who would salve the wounds of people who may be dissatisfied.

In his pitch to voters for a Democratic ticket regardless, Doogan said, "All they need to do is take out their wallet or pocketbook. Situations now are not that dissimilar from the days of Herbert Hoover."

As for the so-called McCainiacs, they're unsure if any Democrats will go for McCain in the aftermath of the Democratic primaries.

"I have no idea if we're going to get anybody's disaffected supporters," Matheson said.

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