Wednesday, August 13, 2008
By ELIZABETH HOLMES and AMY CHOZICK
August 13, 2008; Page A5
A trio of Republicans have defected from their party's likely presidential nominee and kicked off an effort to garner support for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. The group, called Republicans for Obama, is led by two moderate Republicans -- James Leach, a former U.S. representative from Iowa, and Lincoln Chafee, a former U.S. senator from Rhode Island -- along with Rita Hauser, a prominent fund-raiser for President George W. Bush. Their reasons for crossing party lines are diverse, ranging from the war in Iraq to overspending in Washington, and signal unhappiness not just with the candidacy of Republican Sen. John McCain, but with the Republican Party as a whole.
One prominent moderate Republican not joining the group: Chuck Hagel, the senator from Nebraska. A representative for Sen. Hagel said he will not be joining the group, endorsing a candidate or attending either convention. Republicans responded by stressing Sen. McCain's bipartisan accomplishments. "Obama can roll out whoever he wants," said McCain adviser Nicolle Wallace. But for Sen. McCain, compromise "is in his DNA. It's who he is." Yet the departure underscores the GOP's struggle to define itself in the shadow of an unpopular president and in the wake of defeat in the 2006 midterm election.
Republicans for Obama plans to launch a Web site outlining the policy differences between the two candidates. Beyond that, it isn't clear what role Republicans for Obama will have in the general election. An Obama spokesman declined to comment on whether the three founding members would be attending the Democratic National Convention.
Each candidate has had trouble courting his party's base. Sen. Obama has angered some on the left as he has tried to take a more centrist approach to issues including the war in Iraq and increased funding for religious groups offering community service. Sen. McCain has upset religious conservatives with his stance on embryonic stem-cell research as well as a refusal to support a constitutional ban on gay marriage. As a result, both Sens. Obama and McCain have been able to woo some voters across party lines. Sen. Obama this week also received the endorsement of Jim Whitaker, the Republican mayor of Fairbanks North Star Borough, Alaska. "My goal is to let Republicans have a clear understanding that their right to vote should not be restricted by party affiliation," Mr. Whitaker told the press.
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