Republicans switching sides at voter registration deadline


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On the last day of voter registration before next month's presidential primary, the campaigns of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama reached for what they consider electoral gold -- disaffected Republicans.

"I've been a Republican all my life, but the challenges we face are too great to choose a candidate based on party," said Dave Fawcett, a former Allegheny County councilman who changed parties yesterday so that he can vote for Mr. Obama on April 22.

A Republican of more than 30 years who served two terms on County Council, Mr. Fawcett, 49, said it was not easy to switch parties, but "Barack Obama is the only candidate who will be able to break the partisan divide and inspire Americans to come together around real solutions."

In southeastern Pennsylvania's Delaware County, Dan Bone, 73, of Mayfair, came to a similar conclusion, but to him, Mrs. Clinton is the best possible candidate to bring about change in Washington.

An insurance salesman who decried the cost of gas, Mr. Bone said: "I've been a lifelong Republican, but I've had enough."

"Hillary Clinton said it took a Clinton to save us from the first [George H.W.] Bush and may take another Clinton to save us from this one. I have to agree with that," he said.

There are thousands of voters like Mr. Fawcett and Mr. Bone in Allegheny County and in the suburbs of Philadelphia, according to county and state elections officials.

As of yesterday, 7,246 voters in Allegheny County have switched parties and registered as Democrats, said Mark Wolosik, head of the county's Elections Division.

That number far outpaced voters who changed their party affiliation to the Republican Party -- which saw 1,277 new Republicans -- Mr. Wolosik said, noting that no final numbers are available yet because his office is still processing voter registration forms that were postmarked no later than yesterday.

Statewide, 29,060 people changed their registration to the Democratic Party in the week of March 17, compared with 1,375 who became Republicans, according to preliminary figures released yesterday by Leslie Amoros, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of State.

Both Sean Smith, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, and Kristin Lee of the Clinton campaign agreed that the numbers reflect their campaign efforts and organization on the ground.

"We have found that there is a lot of interest among Republicans who want to vote for [Mr. Obama]," Mr. Smith said. "[Mrs. Clinton] starts this contest with an advantage, and we have an uphill battle here, but we feel that [Mr. Obama] is attracting new voters into the process who want change."

Faris Kindilchie, a 31-year-old project manager in the computer science department at the University of Pittsburgh, is one of them.

Seated at an L-shaped table on the second floor of Posvar Hall yesterday, Mr. Kindilchie waited to register to vote as the deadline loomed, literally hours away.

Born in the United States and raised in Baghdad, Mr. Kindilchie, who has been back in the United States for 10 years, said this is the first time he registered to vote.

"Before, I didn't believe in any of the nominees," he said. But he decided to register this time because he wanted to vote for Mr. Obama, whom he said is "the person who I felt was worthy to give my vote to."

But Ms. Lee contends the big momentum in Pennsylvania is on their side.

"We believe the grass-roots energy and organization supporting [Mrs. Clinton] here in Pennsylvania will allow us to claim more than our fair share of those new voters," she said, noting that the Clinton campaign had a very successful push in registering voters in the last four days.

It is partly because of the campaigns and other groups that recently registered Democrats are double the registered Republicans in Allegheny County, said Mr. Wolosik.

As of yesterday, he said, 553,396 voters registered as Democrats, beginning in January, compared to 251,664 Republicans in Allegheny County.

Republicans, who have essentially picked a presidential nominee in Arizona Sen. John McCain, are not worried about the seeming Democratic Party gains in Pennsylvania, said Blair Latoff, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

"Republicans are reaching voters by focusing on issues that concern Pennsylvanians," Ms. Latoff said.


Staff writers Mackenzie Carpenter and Moriah Balingit contributed. Karamagi Rujumba can be reached at krujumba@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1719.


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